Where were you? This has become the question for the ages. Where were you on September 11th, 2001? That question has defined people’s lives for 15 years—15 long years. And now, here a decade and a half later, I have come to the realization that we are the last generation to truly be able to answer that question.
People have always said that I have an exceptionally good memory of my early childhood. And so, yes, I remember—I remember laying on the floor of the living room looking up at our television, just like any other day. I remember someone calling my mom on the phone. I can’t, at the moment, recall exactly who, maybe my grandmother. She screamed, “Oh my God!” and grabbed the remote, turning the channel away from my cartoons. I remember being mad and not understanding why she was interrupting my favorite show. (I think it might have been Dora the Explorer.) And she said “Just hold on.”
And there it was, on our television, burning towers, in the great city I’d never been to, called New York. At the time, only one plane had hit. So we sat, watching everything unfold. And then the second plane hit. I remember the newscasters replaying the footage several times because they were so unsure of what had happened. My mother screamed again. She hugged me and my baby brother to her. We both cried.
I had known death before September 11th, the family dog, who had lived good and long and right, a couple of aunts buried deep in the back of my mind. But I think the aftermath of September 11th was the first time I truly understood war. War- with guns and death and men in uniform. I remember how thankful I was that I didn’t know anyone in the war, because then they might not come back. Still, my mother said it was important that we pray every night, for those people who were in the war. War became a word in my 4 year old vocabulary.
15 years have blurred that day in my mind, but it’s still there. I imagine it’s still there for all of us- stories of bodies being pulled from the rubble days later, pictures of debris covered search and rescue dogs still carrying on, tattered flags hung in the strangest places. The simultaneous feelings of heartbreak and hope that all of us, no matter our political affiliations, felt as our president solemnly stood among the destruction, when he picked up a microphone and yelled “I can hear you!”, that never did leave us.
Young as we were, I’d say those memories shaped us. Those memories, though distant and far, take on all the more meaning with the realization that we will be the last to carry them. We are the last generation to have been alive on September 11th, 2001. Four, five years from now, college students, young adults will know September 11th only as a day before their time, as a part of history they didn’t get to experience.
This leaves us, tomorrow’s firefighters and police officers and businessmen and presidents, the last to remember- with a question. What comes next? We are left the responsibility of keeping alive that day. How do we ensure that the lessons we learned from that day are not forgotten? How do we hold tragedy in our hands and pass on its greatest meanings? I don’t think a single one of us today has a definitive answer to those questions. We’re still figuring it out, grasping at the enormity of our task. Yet, my hope is of a future, where together, we get there.
This article was written by Kinsley Prendergast.