Since last week I had a day of thanks, this week I am having a day of remembrance. Eleven years ago today I was an eighth grader attending middle school in Princeton, NJ. I was in science class when the headmaster called the entire school to assemble in the gym. We had no idea why this was happening… we had JUST had our semi-weekly all school assembly the day before. With the entire school (there were only about 500 students total for middle school and high school), all faculty, and staff packed into the gym the headmaster started explaining that a commercial airplane had just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At that moment, I can honestly tell you I had no idea what I was hearing. At first I thought, what a terrible accident! Then as more information was provided it was becoming clearer to me that the adults in the room were pretty certain this was not an accident. This was soon confirmed when the second plane hit.
Princeton is only one hour from New York City by commuter rail and I knew that many, many people I knew commuted to the city daily for work. Everyone was at such a loss, we were sent back to class but told that if we wanted to go home, our parents could come pick us up. I pulled out my cell phone to call my mom, but all cell signal in the area was jammed. I don’t even remember when they opened up again.
Stunned and shocked, I just returned to class. It wasn’t until a couple periods later that the head of the middle school was at the door of my English class. She called me into the hall where my brother was standing. Before I knew what was happening, he said, “John Ryan died this morning”. Then, for the first of many times to come, I cried. John Ryan was our neighbor and he lived just down the street. Two of his children went to my school. They were close family friends of ours. He used to come to my Little League games.
After the school day finally came to an end, our parents arrived to pick us up, and take us over to the Ryan’s house where most of the neighborhood was gathering, glued to the television. It was then that all the details of the day became know to me, both towers had been hit, both towers had come down, a third plane hit the Pentagon, and a fourth plane went down somewhere in Pennsylvania. I also found out that our loss was greater than just Mr. Ryan.
David Suarez, the son of another family in our neighborhood, had also been in the towers. He was presumed dead, but they weren’t sure. I remember sitting in a driveway as a little kid watching David Suarez leave for college. His sister babysat us. She was my favorite. We used to swim in the Suarez’s pool. We babysat their dog Max before we had our own dog.
But the nightmare wasn’t over yet. Todd Beamer, a man who went to our church, was on United Flight 93, the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. Until that day, I knew Todd as my brother’s sunday school teacher. His wife was a really friendly blonde lady who was about to have a baby. Now, he is the hero who rallied other passengers to attack the terrorists on board the plane, and Lisa Beamer became a voice for 9/11 widows everywhere. Her daughter, Morgan, never knew her father.
It has been eleven years, but every year, I cry remembering that day. Today is no exception. But I also know that my loss is nothing compared to those suffered by so many. So for today, my heart is with the families of the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11/01. We move forward, we rebuild, but we will never forget.