I was on the edge of my 11th birthday, unknown that I was about to experience a moment in history that my children would eventually study in school.
For every person, there comes a time when you realize that the world is pretty dangerous. You realize that politics go beyond the "system of checks and balances", that the media goes far beyond headlines, and that sometimes we can't explain why things happen.
I sat in my science class on that ordinary Tuesday waiting for the bell to ring so that I could go get a snack. Moments after the start of class, I saw the director of our elementary school enter the room to pull our teacher aside. I remember seeing her tears thinking,
Why would an adult be crying?
It was when I saw the tears in my science teacher's eyes -- a man that was probably in his late 20s, known for wrestling the boys in my class at recess -- that I knew something awful had happened.
My class sat in silence -- a concept that you probably remember was quite rare in the fifth grade. I would find out 10 years later that our director told him not to talk to us about what had happened. She felt it was best for our parents to explain. Instead, our teacher cancelled the lesson and did just the opposite.
"Does anyone here know what the World Trade Center is?"
Most of the class raised their hands.
"And the Pentagon?"
More hands went up.
He looked at us and explained what had happened. He explained Al Qaeda and why they hated America. He explained why someone would want to kill himself for the point of a radical cause. He answered our questions: hard questions. I saw more confusion rather than tears on my classmates' faces.
It wouldn't be until years later that we realized the extent to how horrible this event was. It wouldn't be until 2003 when I would find out that my mom's close friend in New York was sick and called out of work on September 11, 2001 (who also missed the Staten Island Ferry that crashed in 2003 because she was running late and who was out of town when the World Trade center was bombed in 1991). I would find out in 2004 that my drama teacher lost his daughter who was oddly at work early that day. I would even hear in 2012 that my friend flew from NYC to Hawaii an hour before the attack, and on the flight nearly took a photo of the World Trade center before her mother stopped her by saying,
"Honey, save your film."
Finally, with my late father in mind, I would hear a testimony in 2013 that would bring me to tears: a story about a young girl who was called out of her fifth grade class to hear that her father wasn't coming home.
Each year, I sit here on September 11th and feel a deeper sense of grief as the stories I learn feel closer and closer to me. The stories only grow stronger in quantity and in depth; and every year I can't seem to shake it.
I didn't lose a personal friend or family member in the attacks. I didn't live near New York or DC or Shanksville, PA. I did, however, lose a lot of faith that day; I learned that the world isn't always safe and good. I learned that security is subjective and that pain from losing someone never goes away.
On a grand level, I lost my childhood on September 11, 2001. I sit here on the brink of 24 and simply reflect on what it means to have an ordinary day. I think about ordinary phone calls to my mom at night and the ordinary "good night" and "I love you" to my fiancé. I think about the ordinary hugs I give my friends after parting ways at the end of the night. I think about my ordinary drive home from work and my ordinary evening routine with my dog.
And most of all? I think about how none of those things are ordinary after all.