I was seven-years-old, just arriving to my second-grade classroom. The TVs in every classroom were on. The eyes of everyone in the building were glued to the screen: teachers, principals, students, parents, janitors. We watched as the smoke billowed out of the Twin Towers. We watched as they fell.
At the time, I did not fully understand what was happening, nor did I understand the severity, the magnitude of what was unfolding right before my eyes. I remember some of the teachers standing stoic, some with their mouths agape, unable to speak, and still others visibly shaken with tears streaming down their faces. I remember the palpable tension in the air—so thick, I swear it could have been cut with a knife.
Normally rowdy students were silent, with eyes wide and quivering lips, unsure what was happening, mimicking their teachers’ actions. The whole school, from Kindergarten to fifth grade, was in shock, unable to catch its breath.
Not much learning was done that day.
A lot of learning has been done since.
I’ve learned the causes and effects. I’ve come to understand how one catastrophic event can change the course of history, can change perceptions in society.
I’ve learned that hate only breeds more hate; only love can conquer all.
I’ve learned that people are judged based on their religion: I hope when people of other religions see that I’m a Christian, they don’t associate me with the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t associate Islam with terrorism because nothing could be further from the truth. Anybody is capable of such an act.
I’ve learned that history often repeats itself, but the only way to stop the vicious cycle is by learning from our past, those who have walked before. The mistakes of our ancestors play a role in our present and our future. How much of a role is yet to be determined.
I’ve learned that nothing brings a country together, the world together, like a shared understanding of tragedy.
I’m 21 years old now. 14 years later, and memories of that day are still seared into my mind—as they are with everybody who was alive. Just like with the assassination of JFK, we all remember where we were that day.
And we won’t ever forget.
I won’t ever forget being huddled in my Aunt and Uncle’s living room that night with the whole family, all eyes glued to the television. My Aunt and Uncle, having just moved from New Jersey, my Uncle having just finished working in the big city, were the most shaken.
I vividly remember the color leave my Aunt’s face as she whispered, “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it.”
We couldn’t believe it, and we won’t ever forget it.
We won’t ever forget the fathers, the mothers, the sons, the daughters, the sisters, the brothers, the first responders who lost their lives that day.
We won’t ever forget because of the impact this tragedy had on the world, the profound influence it had on history.
We won’t forget because that day we were able to put aside our differences and stand as one. Not just us Americans, but all of our allies around the world.
We won’t forget because that day we were all Americans.
There are many things I’d change about America given the chance, but one thing I wouldn’t is the way we stand together in the face of tragedy—even though it takes a tragedy to remind us of what binds us together: we’re all human.
Sometimes we forget that because we are too busy focusing on our differences; we’re too busy using “Hot-Air Rhetoric” to push our own beliefs that we forget what we all want, what our Founding fathers founded this country on, why so many people move to this country: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind us that we’re all American.
We all fly the same flag: white symbolizing purity and innocence; red symbolizing hardiness, valor, and courage; blue symbolizing vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
United we stand; divided we fall.