Ten years ago today I cried for people I didn’t know—people who lost their lives and people who watched others lose their lives. It was a confusing day because I didn’t know what the Twin Towers were, or the World Trade Center. Our student council advisor didn’t believe the girl who announced it in our early morning meeting.
The rest of that school day we walked around dazed, sixth and seventh and eighth graders without a clue what all this meant for our country and our future.
I sat in the hall with a popular girl who hardly ever talked to me, and she looked at me with worried eyes, but eyes that saw me, really saw me, for the first time.
“Are you scared?” She asked.
“Why would I be scared?”
“I don’t know, all the teachers are running around and some are crying and it’s scary.”
We haven't talked since then. She’s a bartender now, on the east coast. But in seventh grade we shared a thread of humanity on September 11th. Observing, backs up against cold metal lockers taking in the bustling hallways full of uncertain, afraid people trying to make sense of the shambled lives they heard about on TV. I didn’t really know about terrorism. I didn’t really know about bodies and bodies buried under rubble and families left to wonder. I didn’t really know about pain on a scale grand enough to touch a whole nation.
Around the dinner table, my dad told a story from the attacks and cried hard. We all cried, too, and hugged a lot.
In pre-algebra for the next few days, we spent the time talking about the meaning of life and mourned with those who had lost distant family members on the other side of the country. People talked about the west coast being next on the list, Seattle, because it was another big city. We created stories to make it make sense. But in spite of fear, we stood united, America did, and we came out with all kinds of commercials and wrote a whole bunch of songs and built memorials. Everyone was concerned about the big picture, kissing their kids ten times the usual. But that kind of intensity is too much to keep up for ten years. It’s too much pressure when logistics have to be attended to; the country can only stop, pause in electrified repose for so long. So after a while those commercials didn’t make sense to run anymore, Hilary Duff went back to being Lizzy McGuire, the thousands of T-shirts with American flags printed on them went on clearance, and all that was left were a few bumper stickers about not forgetting.
Maybe we didn’t forget all the way, but we had to move on at some point, right? We had to resume normalcy—that was our proof to the terrorists that we were resilient. That and declaring war.
There was more than that left after those buildings fell down. Deep stuff America learned all together that can't be described very well in words. Even swimming through the politics and the hurt we knew we would make it.
I’m grateful for those few months of intensity, of kicking math lessons to the curb to discuss weightier matters of life and death and family and love. Even though the math had to be returned to, I am still thankful for that time of regroup and re-gluing. I'm grateful for time for a seventh grader to process compassionate pain and the healing of an entire nation.
Those moments of depth and incredible manifestations of human compassion anchored me;
I won't ever forget.