I still remember everything about that fateful day 11 years ago. I was 11 at the time, still in my first few weeks of 6th grade. I was sitting in the third seat against the window in Mr. Smith's history class. The day before, Mr. Smith had told the class that we would all live through some historic event that would change the world. Little did I know that event would be the next day.
It was roughly 7 am on September 11, 2001. My house was chaotic as my mom tried to get my sister and I ready so we could make it to school on time. My sister was a freshman in high school and my mom a teacher at my middle school. We were running late as usual as my mom exclaimed that this would be the worst day as we left the house. The door slammed, and the stage was set for a day that would change all of our lives.
I remember the phone ringing in my class. Mr. Smith answering it, face going white as he listened to the voice on the other end. He put down the phone, turned to the class of innocent and naïve 6th graders, and stated that something had happened. We turned on the TV just moments after the second plane struck the World Trade Center.
I saw the smoke and the flames as they licked up the side of buildings that I had seen up close just a few months beforehand. I didn't know what was wrong. Perhaps an electrical fire, perhaps a practical joke gone wrong. The 11-year-old kid didn't know who terrorists were or why they would decide to kill thousands of people for a cause that Americans still don't understand today. The innocent view I had of the world changed with four planes, three buildings, a field in Pennsylvania and the loss of thousands of innocent lives that day.
The rest of the day was a blur. Every five minutes the principal called lists of students down to the office to leave with their frantic parents who had raced to the school. For me, I was stuck there for the day -- confused, lost, and scared.
I remember walking down to the cafeteria for lunch, noticing a stark difference in the hallways that normally were buzzing with hundreds of students. As I entered the cafeteria, I remember seeing a group of teachers in a circle, my mom included, with tears running down their faces. It was at this point that the myths I thought I had seen on TV were now a bone-chilling reality.
That night, I went home and turned on the TV. However, it wasn't the typical ABC Family or Disney Channel that I would watch at that stage in my life. I watched things like CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN for the next month, trying to make sense of an event that I was too young to understand, but old enough never to forget.
Each year when the anniversary rolls around, my hair still stands on end thinking about the events that transpired that clear September morning. That day will be one of the few days in my life that I will always be able to remember like it was yesterday.
I was 11 at the time, yes, but I was old enough to learn the same lessons that even the most mature adults did.
I learned that America was not invincible, and that people outside of this country would train for years for the opportunity to kill fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters and other loved ones.
I learned what it meant to be resilient -- to stare evil in the face and not back down.
I learned what heroes were. They weren't in a comic book, they were men and women dressed in everyday clothes or uniforms that risked their life to help complete strangers without thinking.
I learned what resolve was. That no matter what, America will unite, despite our differences.
But perhaps the most important thing I learned that day was what it meant to be an American. To know that I am lucky, blessed and special to live in a country that can take tragedy and turn it into a lesson that everyone, no matter how young or old, can learn from.
I understood why America was so special that day at the age of 11, something that I have been proud of ever since.