I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in the Northeast, have journalist parents or what, but I remember September 11 vividly, despite being only 6 years old. I definitely didn’t understand the implications that day would have or the magnitude of it all. But I do clearly remember sitting in Miss Monahan’s first grade class during our “morning meeting,” and her telling us that a plane hit the twin towers in the city (about an hour and a half from where we lived.)
Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the findings, documentaries, stories from that day. It’s all heartbreaking but something I’ve found myself reading a lot about, perhaps trying to put some of those missing pieces together that I didn’t understand at the time.
Every year on September 11 growing up, there would be a serious class discussion, moment of silence, flags all over the front lawn of school, etc. We all were to remember and reflect on that day, and remember those who gave their lives, and lost loved ones - and remember the community we were a part of.
Fast forward to September 11, 2013. I had just moved into my college dorm the month before, it was an extraordinarily hot Alabama “fall” day (quotation marks because fall does not exist in Alabama), and I was still adjusting to life on campus. I woke up early to walk by the quad on the way to class, hoping to find some peace in what I assumed would be the flag at half-mast and some symbol of remembrance. Instead, there was nothing. No campus-wide moment of silence, discussion in class, etc. But don’t worry - there was a campus-wide email about how that date would have been Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 100th birthday.
I was speechless - I thought “this school really DOES prioritize football ahead of everything else!” I then headed into class and picked up the school paper, The Crimson White. The cover and main story was an exposé on the University Greek System and its systemic segregation.
For the first time, I felt homesick. I felt a world away. On a day that should have been somber in remembrance of 9/11, I was instead reading about a dead football coach and segregation - in 2013!! To top it off, I walked into my dorm at the end of the day to find my RA listening to my roommates yell at each other. And I just sat quietly and then went into my room and cried, wondering how I ended up there.
It was then I realized that, for my friends in the Southeast, September 11, 2001 was just another day in first grade. They would later learn about it in class and understand. But I had classmates who lost aunts and uncles, family friends, etc. Another plane crashed in Pennsylvania. And another at the Pentagon, not three hours from us. It was partially a proximity thing.
My expectations of school, starting somewhere totally new and naive understanding of the “traditions” on campus hit all at once.
Today, I’m remembering that day in first grade. I’m remembering that feeling of being new, unaware and overwhelmed. And I’m remembering the thousands of people who sacrificed their lives and lost loved ones in the city I now call home. In the midst of natural disasters, stark political division and a sense of uncertainty about the future, let’s take a minute to help one another, pray and appreciate the little things - because I know I take them for granted.