"Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day?"
Ten years ago today I woke up on my living room sofa to my dad's voice. It was urgent and he wanted me to watch what was happening on TV. As a 15-year-old I was confused. He sounded panicked and I knew that for some reason, whatever CNN was reporting was important. I think I knew that burning tower would change my life, even before I knew that it was a commercial airplane that had crashed into it; and that it was not just an accident, but an act of terrorism.
As I sat and watched the report I wondered why this was such a big deal. It was sad, but airplanes had crashed before. My dad ran upstairs to wake up my mom and when she came into the room and looked at the TV, all I remember is the look in her eyes. She looked terrified.
I will always remember her face in that moment.
I'm not sure when the second airplane hit, or who else may have entered the room before then, but I do remember seeing it happen. I watched that airplane slam into the South Tower and instantly felt the fear I had just seen in my mother's eyes. I knew then why this was such a big deal; this was not an accident.
It seems like I sat in front of the TV for hours. I really have no idea how long I watched the towers burn, but it seemed like an eternity.
I remember watching as the South Tower, and later the North Tower, collapsed into a pile of dust and rubble.
I remember seeing the coverage of a third plane that had crashed into the Pentagon, and then later a fourth, that had crashed landed in Pennsylvania; the one that headed for Washington, D.C.
I remember the firemen, and the looks on their faces.
I remember the people running from the cloud of dust behind them.
I remember the plane shaped whole in the side of the buildings.
And I remember those who leapt from the upper stories of the twin towers in search of one last second of relief.
The rest of that day was a blur to me. I have no recollection of getting ready for school and seminary. In fact, I don't remember getting up and taking my eyes off the TV ever. I know I did, and I know I talked to kids at seminary later that morning who still didn't know, and some who had no idea what The World Trade Center was. I know I sat in Mrs. Graham's English class, everyone completely silent, just staring at the TV. But I do not remember leaving that couch. As far as I can really remember, I sat there all day, just staring.
I remember crying, for days afterwards.
I remember the endless coverage in the papers and on TV.
I remember thinking that I finally understood the impact of the Pearl Harbor attacks, and making a point to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial shortly after.
I remember taking clippings of newspapers, tons of articles and photos, and a tiny American flag stuck on a toothpick and saving them in a manila envelope for later.
I still have those clippings and that tiny little flag, and I still cry every time I open that envelope.
I remember my first time visiting New York City in 2007 and seeing the gaping hole where the twin towers should have been.
I remember looking into the hole and wondering why it wasn't having a bigger impact on me in that moment...
And then I remember turning around and seeing a NYC taxi parked across the street, and it hit me.
Hard. I cried and cried with a harrowing image of a similar taxi, parked on the street covered in dust and a bloodied woman weeping nearby. The same exact image I had seen on a TV in Hawaii six years ago. In that moment, I remember physically hurting for those who had been right there in the streets when it happened.
Just like all the millions of Americans who watched the events of September 11, 2001 unfold, I remember the horrible things I saw and the horrible way I felt in that moment and I will never forget it.
But I also remember, and I will always remember, the way we came together as a country.
I remember the millions of prayers that were said on behalf of all those who suffered physically and emotionally. And the prayers said for those involved in the plot.
I remember streets and cities covered in American flags.
I remember all those who helped rescue people trapped in the rubble.
I remember how, no matter our differences, we came together as Americans.
And I remember how strong we were then and I know how strong we still are today.
"And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up, next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA!"