Feels like it was yesterday: 9/11 through the years

There aren’t very many days in your life where you know at the time that life is never going to be the same. Everyone knew that on 9/11.

I’ve thought a lot lately about this day and what the younger generation will understand about 9/11. I remember it like it was yesterday, and so it’s crazy for me to consider that kids in school weren’t even born when this event happened. This monumental day that was a paradigm shift in American history is just that to kids, history. They learn about that day from what people tell them and from the same documentaries I watch.

If you weren’t alive that day, and watch documentaries about 9/11, I think it’s hard to appreciate the chaos of September 11th. There’s a sense of fatalism in the documentaries. They almost always begin by contrasting the beauty of that morning against the pandemonium that was soon to burst forth.In the weeks and months after the attacks, it impacted every aspect of our society: sports were a rallying ground for patriotism. Many popular songs were written about that day and playing on the radio. New laws were enacted. Entirely new federal agencies were created. There was an ever present thought of if and when another attack would happen. The whole country was on high alert, arguably for the next 2-3 years.

As I watch documenaries, the quality of the videos seems a little more dated, the outfits people are wearing seem a little more 90s.When the North Tower was struck, no Americans knew that the South Tower was going to be hit 17 minutes later. No one had any idea that other planes were in the process of being highjacked and that other sites were also being targeted. 

As the towers had smoke pouring out, the average person had no idea that they were going to collapse. From the time the North Tower was struck, three other planes crashed and both towers fell in 102 minutes.

A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. It’s a special place. One of the rooms (and one of the few parts of the museum where they ask people not to take photos) features photographs of all of the victims of the attacks. Just a huge room with thousands of photos of people. It’s crazy to think that each of those photos is a person who meant something to a lot of people. They were people’s spouses, people’s parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, best friends. 

All of them taken away because of evil and hatred. For many of the victims, the memorial also serves as their final resting place. From the intense fire, and from the incredible weight of the towers collapsing, and given the high numbers of casualties, remains could be hard to positively identify in the aftermath. Roughly 40 percent of victims have never been identified. The museum has a morgue where the unidentified remains are housed.

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It’s still unfathomable to me. Thousands of people just living their lives, having no idea that they were about to become casualties on the front lines of a war in which they had no idea they were enlisted. The horror that people experienced above impact zones on the towers and on our airplanes. The first responders who risked their lives (and the many who gave their lives) on that day to help others.. For those people, I never forget.

It’s still unbelievable to me. There’s nothing else like it.

I think of the people in conference rooms and riding elevators who were dead without ever knowing there was even an attack. I think of the people who jumped from the towers. They were in such a horrible situation that jumping was the lesser of two evils. That still shocks me.

Originallly published September 11, 2018