I had a 7am P.E. class, so I had gone to class, gotten out early, and had run back to the dorm room to commence sleeping. I had just fallen back asleep.
I remember waking up to my phone ringing.
I remember hearing The Husband--then "The Boyfriend" tell me to turn on the t.v.
I remember turning it on just in time to see the second tower get hit. My roommate came running into the room and just sat down at the end of my bed.
At that exact moment, it might have been an accident. But a few minutes later, there was word about the 3rd plane. We didn't say anything. We didn't move. We just sat there.
Everything we had forsaken?
Everything we had grown up taking for granted?
Was being attacked.
Our freedoms. Our safety. Our country.
A few years ago, I was
babysitting hanging out with my friend Rene's two girls. T was probably about 7...maybe 8. We had watched Hairspray that night, and I remember my heart being filled with joy to see the confusion on her face as we watched it.
"Why were they being so mean to those black people?" she asked.
"We didn't do a lot of things right back then. But we are working on doing things right, now." I replied, cautious not to put myself in a corner where the historical responses might confuse her more.
"Well, I think they should have let them dance...They were the better dancers, anyways" She responded, confident that if SHE had been in charge, things would have been different.
I smiled, "Yes. Yes, they were"
"Hey Ashley...You know what we learned in school the other day?" She came back quickly, unbeknownst to me--quite finished with our previous topic.
"What's that?" I responded, sure that somehow they were teaching about the Civil Rights era in 2nd grade now...
"We learned about these people who flew planes into these big buildings in New York. And now? Those buildings are gone, and a lot of people died that day"
My heart stopped. Sitting there with T? Was the first moment I realized that there would be a whole generation who would be asking US about "that day". The significance of "that day" in history was concrete. And for T..who was just an infant on 9/11....it was as far removed as Pearl Harbor. Or World War II. Or, even, the Revolutionary War.
"You know, T...I remember "that day"" I said, feeling a little melancholy, my soul always carrying a piece of "that day" with me.
"You were ALIVE when that happened??" Her eyes big and curious.
And so I told her all about what I remembered.
How the country banded together to protect our freedom. How none of us really knew what that meant before. How at that moment... regardless of political positions or intellectual disagreements? We were all, simply, Americans.
I told her about the lines at gas stations being miles long, because people were afraid of gas shortages. How planes couldn't fly for weeks afterward...anywhere. How nobody really knew what the next day would look like, or the next week. or month. or year. But that I had trusted in God and had faith that He loved us.
We talked about how I didn't actually know anyone in the towers, but that one of my professors had a son-in-law who worked there. And had been at a meeting across town when it happened. He was one of the lucky ones. I told her we were scared. America had never been attacked like this, at least not in my lifetime...and quickly, I realized that THIS was how Americans probably felt when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
The immensity of knowing that you were alive during something as significant as that? is profound. I tried my best to explain everything I could...knowing that some things? some feelings? just couldn't be explained.
I didn't mention the picture I have in my head of people jumping out of the windows.Or the piles of bodies being pulled from the wreckage. I didn't tell her that we were always worried we would be attacked again. Even trying to proactively determine what the risk of Central AR getting attacked would be (low, we decided). I didn't tell her that I didn't really cry. I couldn't. really. cry. It was an an emotion I had never really felt...
I did tell her how proud I was--and am--to be an American though. How the resilience of Americans after 9/11 only confirmed how blessed I had felt to be born in such a country. How, even when I don't agree with the politics, the religious disputes, the hatred, that Americans can possess....I have never wished I'd been born anywhere else. I have always said the Pledge of Allegiance with pride and sang Star Spangled Banner as beautifully as possible.
How, even in the worst of times, we were the greatest nation. And instead of wishing to be somewhere else, when we disagree with things, we should work to change them and make them better.
"Like the people in Hairspray did?" She asked.
"Yep. Just like that".