An Ordinary Tuesday
*** In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, I wrote an essay from the POV of my then ten-year-old son, whose birthday fell on that day. I often revisit the essay, tweak it, and sometimes add to it. The version below is from 2021, the year my son turned thirty. It's still written from his POV, and encompasses my thoughts about how he must have felt on that day, the days that followed, and his birthday every year.
Following this essay is a heartfelt poem!
I hold in my hand a birthday card. Today I turn thirty. It’s a milestone in anyone’s life. Thirty years ago on this day, my mother reclined in a hospital bed preparing to deliver her first born child, me. Special for her and my dad but a regular day on the calendar.
My birthday is no longer an ordinary day for my country or the world. Today is September 11, 2021. Twenty years ago, on an ordinary Tuesday, the world changed forever. It started out as a day like any other, bright sun, crisp air, a regular school day. It ended as a solemn day, going down in the record books as one of the worst days in American history.
September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center in New York City was reduced to rubble and ash and along with-it thousands of lives. Two planes flew into the tallest structures in Manhattan killing all those on board and causing a massive and devastating explosion that eventually leveled two larger than life structures, everyone thought were invincible. The Twin Towers. Down they came one after the other. Shocked onlookers stared in disbelief as they witnessed this horrific sight. A short while later, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth was brought down by ordinary passengers who united and became heroes forevermore.
Our country was in chaos.
Firemen, policemen, and other first responders ran toward the burning buildings. People rushed to hide under cars to escape the tremendous dust cloud that swirled and descended upon the city. Strangers came to the aid of others. Mayor Giuliani hurried to meet with top officials to protect his city. President Bush was notified. Air Force jets scrambled. A hundred different scenarios occurred at once. A hundred different heroes stepped up that day. Thousands lost their lives. Countless others had their lives changed forever.
I knew nothing of what happened as it occurred. It was my tenth birthday. I looked forward to opening presents and eating cake when I got home from school. I felt joy and excitement.
I hold in my hand a pencil. I’m in Mr. Joyce’s fifth grade math class reviewing long division and about to solve a complicated word problem. I hear the principal’s voice over the loudspeaker asking us to excuse the interruption. She called the names of several students and asked them to please gather their belongings and come to the office. This did not seem out of the ordinary at first, then a few minutes later she called more names. It happened again and again. Students sitting near me left, one by one. Knots gathered in my stomach. Why were they all leaving? Were they all going home? Why was my teacher looking grim and talking in hushed tones to another teacher at the door? Why did the principal’s voice quiver when she spoke?
The day continued with a thinned-out student body. My stomach rumbled as I shuffled along, with the remainder of my class, to the lunchroom. Attractive scents of oregano and gooey mozzarella cheese melting down a crispy crust hit me as we traipsed toward the source of food. Today was Pizza Day. Some students lined up to grab their slice while others scrambled to their seats with lunch bags. Common ambient sounds of a chaotic elementary school lunch period erupted. The unmusical buzz of classmates unzipping lunchboxes in rapid succession, collided with crinkling paper as they ripped open snacks, and conversed in loud attention-seeking tones. While those around me drank chocolate milk and devoured slices of pizza, my stomach sank in doom. I spotted school staff huddled together whispering in corners of the lunchroom.
Finally, the principal came in to make an announcement. Her speech was brief and general as she explained that there had been a train problem in Manhattan and some parents wanted to pick up their children early. Her explanation did not ease my mind. It didn’t make sense. It was not until I got into my mother’s car that afternoon that I found out the truth. She gently explained what happened.
I had a million questions. At least it seemed that way. Looking back, I think I repeated the same questions. “Who did this?” “Why did they do this?” “Are we safe?” “How come there are no airplanes in the sky?” “How many people died?” “Are we safe?” “Are we at war?” “Are they going to get us too?” “Are they going to bomb us?” “Are we safe?”
My mother put on a brave face, answering my questions one by one. She tried to make me feel secure, but I could see she was as scared as I was. After much persuasion on my part, she allowed me to watch the unfolding on television.
I hold in my hand the TV remote, switching channels to hear and see the latest. Every channel is the same: a passenger jet flies toward the towers, it crashes into the upper floors of the building, a powerful explosion ensues, flames gush from the point of impact, billowing black smoke spews into the sky, another jet advances on the second tower and doomsday is upon us, repeating the same scene. The towers burn. People scatter in the streets below, searching for cover, running for their lives. Another plane crashes into the Pentagon. Another into a field. Finally, each of the Twin Towers crumble fast and furious like sandcastles – images, surreal and everlasting.
I sensed my mother was deeply affected by these events, but she still cooked my favorite meal for dinner, put candles on my birthday cake, and let me open presents. As night settled in, eerie silence overtook the sky. All aircraft had been grounded. My father worked late into the night at News 12, Long Island where he was the operations manager. I prayed he’d come home safe. I couldn’t sleep. I remember lying awake for hours with worry and sadness. When I heard my father come through the door, I finally felt some sense of relief. I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
I hold in my hand a newspaper with articles about the devastation along with pictures of planes deliberately crashing, people jumping from the top floors of the towers to their deaths, and crumbled buildings. The images will forever be within my soul. Valiant acts of brave fire fighters, policeman, and citizens who risked their own safety to save total strangers, is a lesson in courage and heroism we can all take note of. Some descended countless flights of stairs to safety while first responders ran up. Some remained stuck in elevators or stairwells. On Flight 93, passengers fought with terrorists as their plane descended and became a projectile. Some met their deaths, and others met a courage they never knew they had, and they helped their fellow man that day. Many I have met in my lifetime know someone who lost their life that somber day.
September 11, 2001, the day the New York City skyline transformed forever. The Twin Towers, an amazing architectural feat, a symbol of power and fortitude, of tenacity and sheer will, built with the blood and sweat of a generation who knew the meaning of hard work and moral values, thought to be indestructible, fell to pieces before our eyes. Obliterated eternally were steel and cement, flooring and lights, desks and paper, computers and copy machines, doors and windows, glass, and equipment, but most devastating of all, human life.
Before some had even finished their first cup of coffee, before some had stepped off the train on their way to work, before some had awoken to begin their day, our nation changed forever. Children lost parents. Parents lost children. Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends all vanished in a devastating instant. Debris and wreckage, strewn pell-mell for blocks and covered in dust, stood as a gruesome reminder. The massive destruction, carnage, and bloodshed shocked the world. The annihilation of thousands of innocent people will forever live in infamy.
Like our grandparents before us who can specifically recall where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed or who remember what they were doing when John F. Kennedy was shot, we too will remember what we were doing the moment we heard the news of the World Trade Center catastrophe; where we were when the first plane hit, then the second. Images, though painful and sickening are forever imprinted in our memories. I will always have a unique connection with this day just like many others across the nation who were born on September 11th.
I hold in my hand an hourglass that drops tiny grains of sand to mark the time that passes. With slow precision all the grains reach the bottom, demonstrating that time marches on. I know time did not stand still on that horrific day, but for me, the epoch moment remains frozen. Years later, the images immediately transport me back and send chills down my spine. Each year on my birthday I remember the destruction, the funerals and memorial services that followed, the heroism, resilience of people, and the media invasion that took over the airwaves. Countless amounts of information and breaking news helped create “the crawl,” beneath the anchor desk which continues today.
In the aftermath, we banned together in song and charity, in prayer and tears. We showed the world and ourselves what we were made of. It mattered not if we were rich or poor, young or old, famous or ordinary, military or civilian, democrat or republican, American or foreign. We all grieved and prayed to our gods. We heard expressions like, “These colors don’t run.” and “God bless the U.S.A.” After twenty years, The World Trade Center, once one of the tallest structures in the entire world is still known today as “Ground Zero.” Our confidence was shaken on that dark, abysmal day, but our spirit and our freedom remain vibrant, strong, and intact. We are and will always be “…the home of the brave.”
As a private citizen I learned we are vulnerable, but we can gain knowledge from these events and persevere. We must carry on with strength and determination, with vigilance and resolve. Like the generations that came before we will hold fast, and we will get through, and we will triumph. And when the names of those who perished that day are read aloud during the annual services we have come to embrace, we will remember and perhaps shed a tear.
September 11, 2001, the day America changed forever. It’s common to hear people say things like, “in a post 9/11 world” or “before 9/11.” For many, life is now divided into these two factors. The brutal attacks opened our eyes to many things we once took for granted and even once ignored. It changed the way our airlines and agencies conduct business. There is increased scrutiny and new surveillance on bridges, tunnels, nuclear power plants, and even at shopping malls. As a nation we have learned to cope, to move forward, to conquer our fears, and to make necessary changes to keep ourselves safe. As generations before us have said, “Never forget,” and we never will; not the graphic images, not the heartache, not the loss of life and skyline, not the heroes, not the eerily quiet skies, and certainly not the terrorists who tried in vain to steal our freedom.
I hold in my hand a birthday card just like so many others born on this day. An ordinary card, but with a date that holds extraordinary meaning. I feel an emotion that only those born on this day could know. Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the day America changed forever.
September 11th 2001
A child born upon a day, just like any other
Born to joyful, loving parents, a father and a mother
So many just like me were born across the nation
Never knowing that this day would rock our whole foundation
A sunny, clear, and peaceful day it started out the same
Like each and every other day, to work the people came
Within a span of fleeting minutes, the planes crashed one by one
The World Trade Center and the Pentagon, targets they had become
Turning ten upon this day I was happy as could be
I did not know the happenings or the tragedy
I only knew I couldn’t wait to open presents and have cake
I wanted to get home from school so I could celebrate
Police officers and firemen with emergency personnel
Tried to rescue others before the buildings fell
The day had turned to darkness although the sun still shone
The planes had come, the towers fell, New York was all alone
Then came the huge dust cloud of rubble and debris
Fragments of invincible strength, a national catastrophe
Wreckage, death, and terror reigned beneath the sun
A cataclysmic day September 11, 2001
I had birthday cake, and opened gifts, while my country faced disaster
I could tell my mother’s heart was beating that much faster
Heroes were born among the ash and bravery abound
The sky was free of airplanes you could not hear a sound
Then came the funerals and services to pay our last respects
A scary time for Americans who did not know what to expect
We haven’t been attacked again we got through that dreadful time
Twenty-one years have passed since then though scenes still haunt our minds
My birthday will come every year, and on that special day
I’ll reflect upon the heartbreak so many felt in their own way
I share a special bond with the others in my nation
Who celebrate their birthday with sorrow, yet elation!