A recollection of 9/11
It struck me a couple months back, talking to the girls I mentor, that despite growing up in its shadow, many kids today don’t really have a sense of what 9/11 was, what it meant, what it means.
I remember the day well.
As I left first period English class, news that the first plane had struck exploded through the halls: “There’d been an accident involving a plane and the World Trade Center.” Students and teachers huddled around TVs, excited, hushed, then horrified as the larger scenario unfolded.
An administrator called me to her office. My little sister was there, weeping inconsolably: “Was our family in New York ok?” I held her as we tried to get our young minds around it all, assuring her that it was going to be ok, and not believing that it would.
School let out early, and my father walked across Washington, DC to pick us up, arriving exhausted and shaken. We made the trek back across the frenzied city, and when we arrived home I joined my neighbor Bekah on her porch swing where we’d spent the most idyllic moments of our childhood.
We sat there in silence mostly, listening. Anacostia, our neighborhood, sat between Bowling and Andrews Air Force bases in Southeast DC and there was a constant traffic of planes and helicopters overhead, presaging the shock and awe to come.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I ached quietly for those we’d lost, and for the people who’d feel their loss most agonizingly. I ached, also, for what we would lose. Young as I was, I remember having a dreadful sense of what the events of that day would mean.
I was heartbroken with anticipation.
I knew that the terror was just beginning; that these next years would be dark ones for high ideals at home, and hellish ones for anonymously-brown people in places invisible to our moral esteem. My parents, after all, had told us the nature of empire from the time of nursery-rhymes, and we knew how power dealt with morally invisible people - arbitrarily, brutally - from the ghetto where we lived.
At school on September 12th, we were invited to share reflections on the moment we were living through. I shared a poem I’d scrawled on notepaper the uneasy night before, the warplanes still buzzing overhead. It appeared in the Washington Post’s 9/11 memorial centerfold the next week.
I recall the opening verse:
That majestic pair,
The twin towers,
Symbols of power’s mighty swell,
Cowered in jet plane’s rough embrace,
Then crumbled and fell.
In war, we’ll kill again the slain,
Hoping death of more,
Will soothe our aches, our pain,
But only in peace, can we be free,
Of this earthly misery.