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  • Writer's pictureAmy Holder

Remembering 9/11

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93. Two decades later, the enduring legacy of that morning is etched in my memory.

On September 11th, 2001, I was a 13-year-old 8th grader in Central Wisconsin. The morning was like any other Tuesday. My second class of the day was band and I always looked forward to this period. I played trumpet and many of my friends were in band, so the room often got pretty rowdy. We had been warming up and hadn't really started the lesson when another teacher came in to the room and pulled my instructor out. We didn't think anything of this and proceeded to talk amongst ourselves.

We remained unsupervised for a time and the room got pretty loud between students playing their instruments and people trying to talk over them. I remember noting at one point that our instructor had been out of the room for a long time, but quickly returned to talking to my friends, enjoying the free time. Eventually my teacher returned right before the bell and dismissed us to our next class. We were not told anything during that class and had no idea that the first plane had hit the North Tower.

My next class was an art course, which was right down the hall from the band room. I always looked forward to this class, as many of my friends were in it and my teacher was very relaxed and often let us watch movies. His son made movie prosthetics and my teacher's classroom was filled with masks and other prosthetics from all sorts of monster films, which really added to the creative environment. When I walked in to the art room, I noticed it was dark and the projector was on and I got excited wondering what movie was going to be playing today. As I walked past the projector screen, I noticed he had CNN on and there was a horrifying image of the North towner burning. My teacher asked us to sit down and told us we could work quietly or watch the news and asked us to keep our talking to a minimum. I was completely confused by what I was seeing and noticed how somber my teacher was. It was so strange to see this side of him. He was normally very humorous and laid back and we liked to joke around with us.

I normally sat toward the back of the room with my friends and none of us spoke a word. I was stunned and unable to remove my eyes from the screen. What felt like moments later, an image of the second plane hit the South Tower on the screen. A unified gasp echoed in the room and we all sat silent and still. We started to look around at each other and then back to the screen, unable to speak. I think we were all wondering if what we were seeing was real. A few moments later, our teacher told us in a shaking voice, that we could call our parents from his office if we needed to. He said little else for the remainder of the class.

The experience of time changed that morning. It somehow seemed to expand and collapse and before I knew it, the bell rang again. I didn't know what to do initially, but everyone started to get up and leave. I remember thinking, "I guess I'll go to my next class." My next class was American Studies. As I walked from the first floor annex to the third floor, I heard whispers in the hallway. I saw classmates crying and I still didn't fully understand what had happened yet.

My American Studies teacher always stood outside his door and greeted us as we entered his room. Today he told us in a low voice to have a seat at our desks and remain quiet for now. No one spoke or even looked at each other. We all just sat silent, looking down at our desks or scanning the room, not wanting to make eye contact with each other. Eventually he came in and told us we would not have a lesson that day. When he spoke, he didn't sound like himself. He was also a very humorous individual and had so much enthusiasm for teaching. In a slightly trembling voice, he asked us to look around at each other and to take a moment and remember where we are and to remember this moment. He talked about other moments in American history like the Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Challenger explosion and said this would be our generation's event to remember. Our future selves would tell the story of where we were on this day. He went on to explain that it was assumed that terrorists of some kind had flown planes into the North and South World Trade Center towers in New York City. I didn't understand what this meant since nothing like that had happened in my lifetime. I just remember how quiet the room was at that moment. We were normally a chatty bunch of students and my teacher often had to wrangle us to stay focused. The room felt tense and unsettling.

I remember feeling so confused and didn't know how to respond to what I was hearing. I remember feeling sad and scared for the people in those buildings, on the ground and on the flights. I had never felt so much grief for people I didn't even know. I could tell my teacher was holding back tears as he spoke to us. I had seen disbelief and despair on two of my most beloved teachers that morning. None of it seemed real, despite seeing the second plane hit the second tower on live television. Adults I trusted and admired were completely shaken and as a young person, this was destabilizing.

The rest of the day was a blur. I think my next class might have been Algebra, but I know none of my classes had normal lessons for the remainder of that day. The hallways were very quiet and some students left early. My bus home had fewer students on it that afternoon and the ride home was also quiet.

Those first three periods of the day are crystal clear and I will never forget the image of seeing the North tower on fire as I walked in to the art room. The shock of seeing the South tower get hit on live television still makes my stomach drop. I will never forget seeing the fear and despair in the faces of trusted adults I admired. All these years later, I still have to take a moment to reflect on that morning just like my American Studies teacher predicted we would. The world has changed so much in the last 21 years, but I will never forget how it felt to mourn as a nation and how unified we felt in the aftermath of that day.

"Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11."

President Obama

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