I Will Never Forget

Ten years ago today, I was a 12-year-old 6th grade student at a small school in California’s Central Valley. That morning I woke up earlier than I usually did because my mother called me to her room as she was getting ready for work. She looked at the television and said, “A plane crashed into the Twin Towers!”

I was stunned. The first thing I thought was, “It’s an accident.” My eyes were glued to the news coverage. I stared in wonderment at the towers I had seen “in the flesh” just three years before. My idealistic self was sure that the authorities would evacuate everyone and put out the raging fire. I went back to my room to get ready for school.

Minutes later, my mother called me back to her room. “A second plane hit! We’re under attack!” I was even more confused than I had been before. These kinds of things only happened in the movies I loved to watch. This didn’t happen in real life. People weren’t that evil.

From that point on, I stayed in my parents’ room, my eyes vigilantly focused on the television screen. Once my father came back from his morning jog, my mother and I filled him in on what had just happened in New York. He was just as stunned as we were. The whole nation was.

When the first tower began to collapse, all I could do was scream, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” We all had a sickening feeling. We were numb. Thousands of people had just died and the famous New York skyline was forever changed.

As a 12-year-old, I understood death. Three years prior, my beloved grandmother had passed away after a long fight with cancer. Earlier that year, my great-grandfather had died after suddenly collapsing from cardiac arrest. I knew and understood that the people in the towers were dead. I knew their families were in emotional torment.

However, I think it’s safe to say that I was most impacted by the loss of two American icons. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had been the defining feature of the New York skyline for decades. They had made cameos in movies, television shows and music videos for a generation.

After visiting New York in 1998, I was mesmerized by the city. It was everything I had imagined it to be and more. When I came back home, I religiously drew the various NY landmarks to detail. While others would draw two big boxes to represent the World Trade Center, I drew the individual columns and sky lobbies. I was Manhattan’s biggest fan (and I still am).

When my cousin briefly trained in the South Tower for her job with Morgan Stanley a year before 9/11, I was so excited. I would proudly say, “My cousin worked in the World Trade Center.” Immediately after September 11, I was haunted by the thought, “My cousin actually worked in the World Trade Center a year before.”

Of course, as I’ve grown and developed as a human being, I have a greater understanding of what the families of the victims felt and continue to feel. I cannot even imagine losing a father, mother, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend to a terrorist attack. The thought alone fills me with dread and sadness. I feel so bad for the families of the 9/11 victims and I hope that we as a nation can continue to come together to help and comfort them.

Now, the World Trade Center site is rapidly taking shape. One World Trade Center (formerly Freedom Tower) is rising higher and higher into that sacred sky. Every day, the complex is changing and transforming into something new. As the 21st century progresses onward, the new towers at the World Trade Center are taking shape, ready for this modern century.

In the midst of this new birth, a reminder of that day and what used to be are etched into the ground. The subterranean memorial includes a museum and two giant footprints of where the Twin Towers once stood. Nearly four decades after the towers opened to the public, reflecting pools in their shape now occupy what used to be the location of some of the tallest buildings in the world. Young children and future generations will visit the memorial and reflect on the events of that horrific day, never knowing a New York with the Twin Towers.

I will forever miss the towers. Those two monoliths of American superiority in business and might can never be truly replaced, just like the nearly three thousand lives lost can never be replaced or forgotten. On this the tenth anniversary of the worst (and hopefully last) terrorist attack in U.S. history, let us all reflect and mourn the loss. Never forget.

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Reflections of a Millennial on September 11

*Note: A “Millennial” is a member of the Millennial Generation (people born between 1980 and 1995). I was born in 1989. Here’s my perspective…

It is hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is in one week. Where has the time gone? It’s amazing how much has happened and how much this event shaped the Millennial Generation.

The world has changed so much this last, turbulent decade. America entered two wars (and ironically lowered taxes to somehow pay for them), saw some of its worst natural disasters, lost several key figures and celebrities (Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, etc.), saw its Middle Class decline and crashed into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

We also advanced in the fields of science and genetics, discovered hundreds of planets orbiting other stars (some that may be Earth-like and harbor life), saw the advancement of gay rights with several states (and other nations) legalizing marriage equality, elected the first African-American to the White House and became addicted to the mp3 player. Quite the contrast.

Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” opens with this famous paragraph that perfectly sums up the opening decade of the 21st century:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

My generation is used to these extremes. According to demographers, people in my age group (late teens to early 30s) are accustomed to the threat of terrorism. Personally, having gone through my teenage years during the last decade, it is hard for me to imagine airports without security lines and strict carry-on rules.

We are also skeptical of organized religion, given the great advancement of science and the global display of extremist religion. We’ve seen how much hatred and violence is bred from ignorance and intolerance. Millennials want to see a peaceful world where all are equal. Nationalism isn’t as strong with our generation as it was with others in the past. We see ourselves as part of an emerging and growing global culture that transcends political lines on a map. Even young people in the Middle East see the need for tolerance and democracy (ie: Arab Spring 2011).

September 11 was a wake-up call to everyone. We were assured that a prosperous, promising future was going to come to us. We never thought that a group of religious fanatics would murder thousands and compromise global security. Seeing the towers collapse into a cloud of twisted steel and rubble was a slap in the face and a call to arms for us to fight for a better tomorrow.

My only hope is that the next decade is smoother than the last. As we remember how the world changed on a single day, let us look toward a future of reason and peaceful coexistence. I know there will be global conflicts, famine and disease; Those aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But I hope that as science and discovery open new horizons to us, humanity doesn’t regress into the dark ages.

To see the progress at the Word Trade Center site, see my post (the latest in a series) on the construction as of August 2011: http://micahstwocents.com/2011/08/11/the-phoenix-rises-august-2011-edition/