I was nine years old when the world completely changed.
It was a sunny September day in Comanche County, Kansas. I hopped off the school bus around 3:30 p.m. and was greeted outside by my mother. She had a home business repairing upholstery at the time, and it wasn’t typical for her to wait outside for us kids when we got home from school.
As soon as I stepped off the bus, she asked me if I saw on TV where “a plane hit a big building.” I had no idea what she was talking about; the school day had been a normal one with no interruptions or any indication of concern. I asked what she was referring to, and then spent the next few hours with my eyeballs glued to the television.
Every channel I flipped through was showing the same horrifying images of two commercial airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. I couldn’t escape the news reports from New York City on September 11, 2001. I remember feeling hollow inside as I watched the planes strike the Twin Towers over and over. My elementary school-aged brain had a hard time wrapping itself around the notion that nearly 3,000 people died while I was sitting in my fourth-grade class that morning.
We eventually turned off the TV and had dinner, but I don’t think I ate much. That evening, I tried to play outside but ended up just sitting on the swing set. My dad came over to join me.
“Do you notice anything different about the sky this evening?” he asked.
I looked good and hard, trying to find something. “It’s clear.”
“Exactly,” he said. “No air traffic.”
The skies over our home in rural Comanche County were the clearest shade of azure I had ever seen. There were no jet contrails — not even a wisp of cloud — crisscrossing overhead. With all air travel grounded after the attacks, the heavens stretched on, unmarked by the usual planes zooming over “flyover country.” My dad and I stared at the sky and talked for a while, gently rocking in the swing set.
I slept fitfully that night while having dreams of planes flying into my face. The next day, a TV was set up in the auditorium at school. Students were gathered around, watching the morning news in awe and fright. I don’t remember much from the rest of that day or school year. After Sept. 11, the days blended and my memory of anything beyond that point becomes mushy. However, much like people who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I clearly recall where I was and what I was doing when I learned about the terror attacks on 9-11-01.
Twenty years later, I find it fascinating that there’s an entire generation of children growing up who are learning about the September 11 attacks as a historical event. The sequence of actions before, during and after the attacks not only on the World Trade Center but also the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, are forever etched into the global psyche and completely changed almost every aspect of life on our planet in one way or another.
On this 20th anniversary I think of the lives cut short, the phone messages left by people who never returned to their loved ones, the toxic dust that caked the faces of rescuers, and the pervasive sadness that lingered over the nation for many years after.
I hope we don’t forget that moment when the world changed. I sure won’t.