I have lived in New York my entire life. But, I do not remember the Twin Towers.
On September 11th, 2001, I sat in my family room watching Blue’s Clues. I was only two years old. I didn’t see the look of terror on my mom’s face, as she couldn’t get ahold of my dad. I didn’t see the news reports, showing the plane hitting the South Tower.
The youngest millennials, such as those born in 1999, do not remember 9/11. We have absolutely no recollection of life or travel before those awful attacks. We grew up strictly in a post-9/11 society, and it’s something that hasn’t really touched on.
I had only flown one time before September 11th, and quite obviously I don’t remember it. What’s familiar to me at airports is TSA at every single area, high tech scanners, taking shoes off before allowed through security, random selection, no water bottles allowed, and an all-around uneasy feeling.
Of course, I’ve heard stories about flying before 9/11. And even after hearing them, I can’t fathom not having to take out every single liquid item in my bag, or being allowed through a security checkpoint with my sweater still on.
Life before 9/11 seems like a foreign concept. For my entire memory, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in New York (now replaced by One World Trade), not the Twin Towers. At the time, I didn’t know about the Pentagon being hit, or that the brave people of Flight 93 were able to prevent another attack by crashing into Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center, and I thought the “We Will Never Forget” decals on my car windows were just pretty decorations. I was respectful during our moments of silence in school, but I didn’t think much of it.
Despite living through it, September 11th, 2001 feels like another date in my history textbook.
As I grew up, I wanted to learn more about September 11th. I read everything I could get my hands on about that day. I asked my mom questions about where she was, what it was like, and her reaction to the horrific attacks. She told me about how after 9/11, New Yorkers rallied together, and helped each other out whenever needed. And that this tragedy brought the country together, at least for a while. She was always patient with me, with her only request being that I don’t ask my dad about the day. At the time, I didn’t understand why.
But, when I was in eighth grade, I was assigned a scrapbook project about September 11th. For the first time, I was encouraged to ask my dad about what happened. It was then that 9/11 stopped being just another date.
I found out that my dad lost three friends in the attacks. He had been on the phone with one of them right before they died. He had to walk across the 59th Street Bridge in order to get home. My father very rarely shows emotion, and seeing that pain is what made September 11th finally feel real to me. I cannot thank him enough for sharing that with me.
9/11 has since become something that I couldn’t remember, but still mourned. I still cry every year, even now. It’s a strange sort of sad, where I don’t quite know what I’m missing, but I can still feel its absence. By learning about my family’s connection to the day, I am able to understand it more than I was before. I encourage you to ask your family about their connections to that day, where they were, and how it impacted them, especially if you’re one of the younger millennials like I am.
Some people my age have begun to forget about 9/11. My high school even stopped calling for moments of silence at the exact times that the towers were hit. My friends go about their day without another thought. I began to get agitated that the day wasn’t being remembered, because it shouldn’t be like that.
I will forever be grateful for my junior year history teacher, who was the person first in a while to force us to come to grips with the reality that is 9/11. “As long as people keep sharing their family’s stories, people will keep talking about it,” he said to me, and that’s a powerful statement I’ve never forgotten and continue to act towards. I urge all of you as well to follow this advice.
I have lived in New York my entire life. I do not remember the Twin Towers. But I remember the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, because I lived through it. It’s the only world I’ve known. I lived through a radically changed nation, I lived through people mourning, and I now know that it’s possible to never forget something you can’t even remember.
Photo courtesy of Mike Goad (A worker stands at Ground Zero in New York City) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons