On Sept. 11, 2001, I was 11 years old. New York State had just converted to a system where middle school began in sixth grade rather than seventh; a new school had been built to handle the sudden influx of nearly 1,000 more students. My class was the first to make the transition.
The first day of school that year was on Sept. 9. The new building was still being constructed around us – the floors were still poured cement, there were no walls to the front entrance way and the fire alarm was going off every half hour because of dust from the creation of the stage. The whole place had a rather industrial feel, very impersonal. For an 11-year-old, who had never dealt with lockers, passing time or block scheduling, it was overwhelming.
On the day of the attacks, the students were not informed that anything had happened until last period. I had no frame of reference: I had never been to New York or Washington and I was six the last time I had been on a plane. It was not until I got home, saw my mom crying and watched what was being relayed on the television, that I had any sort of comprehension.
Each anniversary has had a different impact, a different understanding attached to it as I grew older, learned more as my worldview expanded. Interspersed have been moments of terrifyingly acute clarity. The first time my family visited Ground Zero, for example, we stepped off the subway and the site itself still not visible. Even someone who had been living under a rock would have known that something terrible had happened there. The sense of loss, of something missing, was so strong I can recall it to this day.
Dust still permeated corners and cracks; despite a small crowd, Ground Zero was nearly silent, rubble piled high and on top, a cross, made of two steel beams. My parents, who had been to the top of the towers, told me we would have been standing in the courtyard, showed me the pictures. I could not even fathom it.
Even 10 years later, what happened still permeates people’s perceptions of the world. For instance, at the Pentagon Metro station in D.C., one may transfer between buses and the train. On the bus leaving the station, one often sees planes flying low over the Pentagon, passenger jets ready to land. The first time I saw this, I was horrified and what people must have felt on 9/11, perhaps watching from the very spot I now occupied as a plane glided in, far too low.
Ten years is a long time, yet the events of that certain beautiful day in late summer still shape us. I was old enough at 11 to remember how the world felt, without the threat of terrorism. There was an innocence in that regard, which is now lost. It worries me, however, that now a whole area of the world, and an entire religion, is distrusted because of the actions of a few. America was scarred by the events of 9/11, irrevocably changed: has she changed for the better? Have I? Have you?