It’s been 15 years to the day since your heart was broken. You’ve had plenty of heartache since that morning. The world has never felt steady since that day, no “normal” has been reestablished. A lot of hard, unfathomable things have come from that day, but a lot of good has come, too.
I was eight years old that day, a week from turning nine. I was anticipating going camping with my dad for my birthday up at Cowan’s Gap. I was in the fourth grade. My days were spent immersed in Little House on the Prairie, youth soccer, Lisa Frank school supplies, and a lot of boy bands who looked identical to each other. My childhood was what many would consider idyllic, tucked away in a small Pennsylvania town, attending a top-notch county school, exploring orchards and fisheries, attending a little church with a big red door on Sundays.
I was home from school that day, when the planes hit. I remember it distinctly, every moment clear as day. I was upstairs watching a kid’s show when I heard my nana gasp and turn the volume up. By the time I went downstairs, I was just in time to see the second plane hit.
It was that day that I understood that humans could do bad things to one another. That horrible things could happen to good people. That the unthinkable could occur. That strangers could hate one another without even knowing each other’s names.
I remember the footage of smoke billowing from the towers, the plumes of ash as concrete and steel collapsed on itself. The hysterical voices. The shell-shocked reporters. The sounds of sirens so loud on the television that it felt as if they were at your door. People being pulled from the wreckage. First responders carefully picking their way through the rubble. Men and women with a lost look in their eyes and their mouths set in a firm, grim line.
But paired with that, I remember flags.
Hundreds of flags.
Overnight, it seemed that every home and storefront became a place for Old Glory to rest. America, that is how I think of you.
Stillness. The silence of a head bowed not in defeat, but in prayer. And above that, the snap of a flag and the clink of hardware on a metal pole as it waves in the wind. And then the sound of hundreds of voices, thousands of faces, millions of hearts filled with compassion. America and her comrades rising from ashes, wounded and hurt and dizzy with shock, but alive. Heart pumping, blood flowing, alive.
There was anger. There was hate.
But if you looked, America, you saw infinite compassion. We clung to each other, reached for a hand. Men and women stepped up to the plate, heroes were forged that day in a hundred different ways.
Many wore uniforms and answered the calls.
Some were ‘regular people’ who became extraordinary.
Bravery conquered fear.
Compassion trumped hatred.
Walls were broken, bridges were built.
Hands were clasped.
We lost many. The world lost many beautiful souls that day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. 15 years later, we still mourn them. We will always mourn them. Their names are engraved in stone, immortalized in light.
But we will live on for them, too. Because 15 years, America, and we still remember. We still a jolted back to the memories of that day. We do not say, “remember when?” Instead, we say “where were you?” because we do remember.
My youngest sister never knew America before that day.
But I remember it.
My childhood is split: before September 11, 2001 and after. Before the military jets flying low over our house and after. It is never too far from my mind or heart. The memory startles me to wakefulness, and all of a sudden I am eight years old again, staring at a television screen, searching for answers to questions I had not asked.
We cannot turn back the clock. We can’t change what happened. But we rose from the dust, clinging to the memories of those we lost. We pulled each other up, imperfectly. We are trying yet to rebuild, to recenter, even 15 years on. Five thousand, four hundred, and seventy-seven days later, we are America, stronger, more resilient, more aware.
Dear America, the day the country veiled itself in red, white, and blue was the day that I realized that people were capable of great evil, but also of even greater good. That my neighbors extended far beyond those men and women who lived beside us on Catherine Street, that blood bound us together into a great web of humanity, where life was precious beyond compare and that forgiveness is a daily effort.
Dear America, 15 years later, today is still hard. The heartache of reflection is painful. But we rose. We united. Our brethren across the seas and at our borders stood with us. We hugged our loved ones tighter, we worked a little harder, we stood a little taller. Tears were shed, but shoulders were broadened and arms were linked.
Dear America, we are imperfect, but beneath your banner we still stand, remembering.We stand as your heart, memories enshrined in our own.
15 years, and we still remember.
A Peculiar Girl