After something tragic happens in life we usually have the surroundings and the situations burned into our mind. Most days I can’t remember what I had for lunch but ask me about when my grandmother died more than 10 years ago, and I can tell you very specific details, down to the songs we listened to while driving to see her. The same is true with 9/11.
When I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 I didn’t realize that my life, and the lives of everyone who witnessed it and experienced it, would change forever. I got to school at about 8:15 and went into my 3rd grade classroom. Usually we started with the Pledge of Allegiance at 8:30, but that morning when I walked in, my teacher, Ms. Bleazard, turned the television on. She had us sit criss-cross applesauce and we watched the live news reports of everything that happened.
8-year-olds, as a rule, are not the most quiet or well-behaved children, especially when they are with their friends. However, that day you could cut the tension and fear with a knife. Even being as young as we were, we all still knew that things were changing right in front of our eyes. I sat next to my friends, Taylor and Isaiah, on the floor and I could see the worry in their eyes just like I know they could see in mine. Many of the children were crying. We all were very somber and quiet that day. The only conversations we had were about our families and if they were safe.
My thoughts were all over the place that day. Sometimes they were very dark and scary, and other times they were naïve like many other 3rd graders in normal circumstances. I had no idea how far away New York was, I just remember being terrified by the thought that maybe another plane would crash into the building where my dad worked or wondering if I would have a home to go home to after school. I also remember asking my teacher if they would have Otter Pops at lunch that day, so I still had my 8-year-old tendencies as well.
I didn’t learn anything at school that day, but at the same time I learned the most important lessons. Here are the 5 most important lessons I learned:
- In a day as bad as that one, I learned that humanity is good. I vividly remember seeing on television photos and interviews where complete strangers were consoling and holding each other. There is a scripture that I love that says we must be “willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” That is exactly what happened that day. In many apocalyptic scenes the creators create this false idea that we will betray each other, and it will be us against them. I saw on 9/11 that even when the world is ending, we will support each other.
- In a day where many felt hopeless, I felt hope. After lunch (no Otter Pops), we came back to our classroom. Again, Ms. Bleazard had us sit down, but this time she told us that everything would be ok and that we could do anything. Most of the time that doesn’t mean anything, unless it’s from someone you trust. I trusted her, and I had hope that what she said was true. I believe that my teacher, and teachers everywhere, love and guide their students in a way only matched by parents of children. There were only two places I would have felt safe that day: at home, or at school.
- In a day full of actions of hate, it is the actions of love that left the biggest impact. Nobody can soften a heart like a child. They don’t see differences, they see humanity. Everyone is their friend, and they are genuinely concerned about those around them. The most striking memory I have of that day is that of an 8-year old girl, my classmate, sobbing. Another 8-year-old, a boy, went over and gave her a hug and held her while she cried. These two despised each other and were constantly getting in trouble for fighting. Yet here they were, putting aside their differences when one was suffering. That is unconditional love. We need to be like children.
- In a day where we got knocked down, I knew we would get back up. My principal, Mr. Daniels, was a great guy. He was less an authoritarian and more a mentor. That day, he went from classroom to classroom making sure everyone was alright. He could have stayed in his office all day talking to the parents who called and assuring them that we were, but instead he knew it was his duty to watch over and protect us, so he made sure we were ok. He led by example. I knew that we would be ok because we had great leaders.
- In a day meant to divide us, it brought us together. Despite any differences, we clung to those around us that day. Literally. What was meant to divide us and create internal conflict instead made us come together and do what America does: accept and support everyone. We acknowledged our differences and loved each other for them. Our enemies became our friends. We embraced instead of push away.
Today we see that internal conflict. The sad thing is that this conflict is created by ourselves. We need to come together again, not drift apart due to differences. Many of us (myself included) have blamed the conflict in one form or another on our leaders. We need to start accepting the fact that change starts within. Stop blaming others. Accept what is your responsibility and make the changes you can, and others will follow. If you think we don’t have good leaders? Be the type of leader you think we should have. We need more great leaders. Stop whining and complaining about what you can’t control and start focusing on making a difference in what you can control. Be the change you want to see in others. Live it, don’t say it.