Time comes and goes without prejudice, and the seasons change for us all. I was once a senior at Easton Area High School, sitting in second period Latin one, as airplanes flew into the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and a hillside in Shanksville, PA. A younger girl named Tarin was sitting next to me, and I immediately remember telling her “it’s Bin Laden.” I clearly consumed too much news for my age.
That morning was beautiful. I’m talking a perfect blue sky, the slightest twinge of Fall in the air, the music bumping in my car on the way to school. Gas was under a dollar at the gas station down the hill, and my friends were in the car with me on the way to school. It was a cross-country meet day, a race we would not run that day. I was excited though. I was most mornings that year when I went to school.
I remember the crazy rumors that day, of planes heading towards Philadelphia, the White House, and the Empire State Building. I remember being sent back to home room in the band wing, then being at lunch in the senior cafeteria, sitting with a group of athletes, listening to our principal, Dean Jones explain to us what happened, and helping us make sense. It finally made sense, just how big of a world event we were watching.
I remember the days and weeks after too. I remember watching funerals right here in our communities, just over an hour from New York City. I remember going to the Monday Night Football game between the Eagles and Giants in the Meadowlands, just weeks later. I remember going past the crash site in Shanksville, PA just weeks later on the long, winding trip to Pittsburgh to visit Pitt. I remember going to Washington, DC and looking at the Pentagon from across the highway, in horror. I remember being tested for anthrax after a trip to the Capitol, days later, because another girl (her name was Carrie) I was there with got sick after we were exposed. I remember how long the Q-tip was they stuck up my nose to test me, too (it was scary and funny at once). I remember going back into Manhattan for the first time that Fall. I remember when the first friend of mine came home from Afghanistan that Winter, critically injured.
I remember the years that would follow, too. I remember falling in love with New York after that, for the first time in my life (even after years of disliking my parents former home). I remember the respect I suddenly found for people there, watching them recover. The events of 9/11 made me realize what a great, big, important deal Washington was too. I remember how the events of 9/11 actually lead me to oppose the Iraq War, and how that galvanized me to go into politics. I remember years later living in Washington, and how I celebrated with total strangers on my first night there, because America had killed Osama Bin Laden. Just months later, I went into Manhattan on 9/11/11, ten years after the attacks, simply as a point of national pride. The sound of the bagpipes, and of the toasts in Lower Manhattan to fallen cops and firefighters shook me up.
I am not naive to the events of 9/11/01, or how they happened. I am not a conspiracy theorist either. I understand the role the United States had in training Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahideen through the CIA, and in creating the Taliban, and how the aftermath of the first Gulf War helped create the conditions for al Qaeda. I understand the follies of the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and much of the War on Terror. I fully understand that 9/11 wasn’t some inside job, but that our government, and particularly our White House, missed the signs. We made mistakes before 9/11. We made mistakes after, too. We shouldn’t view 9/11 through purely red, white, and blue glasses.
Seventeen years have gone by, and much has changed. Tarin who sat next to me in Latin one, she’s married and lives up by New York. Principal Jones is long retired. One of my friends who rode to school with me that day, she died in a plane accident in Colorado. That Marine that grew up in my town and was the first person I knew to come back from Afghanistan injured, is married, has kids, and is in a television commercial. One of the girls with me in the anthrax scare, a classmate of mine at Easton, Meghan, is in politics too. I’m definitely not running a cross-country race today either. I still love New York. I’ve fallen back in love with DC.
Time passes everything by. Seventeen years is not a significant milestone in the time since 9/11/01, but yet I remember it more vividly today than I have in some times past. It means different things to me now. I miss those two big buildings. I felt weird walking past the memorial at the Pentagon when I lived in Arlington, but I also felt peaceful. I spent this 17th anniversary at home in Easton, listening to Bruce Springsteen. I have “Atlantic City” stuck in my head. I think it fits my feelings today perfectly.
Seventeen years after I was an 18 year old boy, making sense of the most world altering event of my life, all I can do is think. Time truly passes. I pondered today if America could be that united today, if we squandered that unity on the wrong things, if we have the leaders and political will to even unite now. Then I reminded myself, this time too, shall pass.