I grew up in New York City, a fact I was never really aware of until I moved to Portland, Oregon over the summer. The move struck me with a kind of culture shock I never expected -- though, to be completely honest, much of it was probably the fault of the weather. As with anything, I adapted, assimilated, and grew into being away from home. It was on September 11, however, that I was reminded that I was no longer in New York.
Everyone has their story, the progression of memories triggered by the date, or a set of words, or that question used for tragedy after tragedy: "Do you remember where you were?"
I was in third grade.
I remember the silence before the announcement, knowing that there had to be some strange reason that the entire school was assembled in the auditorium all at once.
I remember the silence after, when the principal told us that a plane had crashed into the twin towers; a stunned silence, a silence of characterized by the sheer absence of action.
I remember how the silence was broken. I remember the auditorium was still, unmoved, except for the fifth grader directly in front of me. He collapsed into tears, the echoes resonating in the acoustics. We found out later that his dad worked in the towers. We found out later that his dad died that day.
I remember knowing for the past 10 years, that would be my 9/11 story. Knowing that nothing that I felt could compare to what that boy felt.
Being away from New York on the 10th anniversary was hard. Away from New York, from the scene, from gatherings of people who were there when it happened, who saw the smoke, who walked over bridges, with no way to call their families to get to their homes, who spent the next few days recognizing the looks on their faces in others' eyes, the event took on a new meaning. It became an event not of remembering, but of reflection. Reflection demands a pause, as does remembering, but reflection is also a note of perspective. To reflect is to take the past and use it to understand, to make sense of the present, to better the present.