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15 years of remembering 9/11

This year marks the first year that the horrific events of Sep 11, 2001 are being taught to high school students as a historic event that they were not alive for.
How crazy is that? How has the time gone by that fast?
There’s no opinion to really have about that. It’s a fact that we all knew was going to happen someday, while it’s probably not something we ever actually thought about, now that it’s true, it makes us go, “woah.”
I, like so many others, remember exactly where I was when it happened: Ms. Hamilton’s eighth grade English class. I think I can even remember who I was sitting next to.
Mr. Cavanagh, our principal, called us to the auditorium to tell us what had happened. I remember not being entirely sure what was going on. I mean, I was old enough to understand, but not really old enough to understand. You know?
After school, my best friend and I walked down to the local bagel shop where we would always hang out and I remember they had a small, maybe 13-inch tube TV set up on a table, the store was empty and all the employees were huddled around the tiny TV.
We joined them in silence. Any giggles left from our pre-teen conversation during our walk over were long gone and any appetite we thought we had was gone, too.
What a defining day. And now, assuming you’re not a high school freshman or younger, you are part of a group of people who can most likely say the events of that day seriously shaped a part of them. An exclusive club that we wish had never come into existence.
I recently became friends with an incredible couple who were civilian first responders to 9/11. They worked on Wall Street and lived just a few blocks from the towers. That same day, they found themselves at Ground Zero with masks on their faces, covered in soot, helping in any way they could.
The photos and stories they have from that day and following week, are amazing. Amazing and sad and unbelievable. Knowing people who were actually there somehow makes the thing so much more real and impactful, otherwise, it’s just so huge, it makes it difficult to interpret.
With Colin Kaepernick sitting for the national anthem lately and having others join him, especially this past weekend being opening weekend for the NFL, there was a lot of speak about respecting the flag on 9/11 regardless of how you feel because showing respect to those who lost their lives that day trumps all.
I must agree. For the past 15 years, on the anniversary of that day, one of the most popular posts online is “never forget.” Even if we wanted to, I reckon we couldn’t.
I know I wouldn’t want to either. While I hate everything that happened that day, the power that it had to bring people together was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced.
The love and compassion that people showed for one another was inspiring. The character we were forced to build by learning how cruel our race can be, was something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
For those who are now learning about this day from a textbook, I only hope that the teachers teaching it can help them to understand the gravity of what it was like. When I’ve heard first-hand accounts from people who lived through World War II, the Vietnam War, the Great Depression, to name a few, I know I always walk away with a whole new perspective on things.
Ultimately, it is an incredible way to practice gratitude. Through others’ traumatic experiences, through the injury to such a powerful nation, through the healing process that people are still experiencing, we can find gratitude.
We may never be able to feel exactly what others felt, truly understand what happened, ever know how humans could do that to other humans, but we can always choose to be grateful for our lives and do our best to not take this life for granted.
While I will never forget that day, I will also never forget what it’s taught me – and I hope others are able to see it the same way. Practice gratitude.

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