As a second grader, you typically know when your mom is going to call you out of class early.
Maybe you have a dentist appointment, or you’re leaving for a camping trip over the three-day weekend.
Instead, on September 11, 2001, my mother pulled me and my siblings out of school and refused to tell us why until we got home.
I was 7 years old when our nation was attacked on 9/11. I was old enough to understand the meaning of the word “hijack” and “terrorist” when my parents explained what I was seeing on TV.
I was old enough to realize that the news stories about this were more important than my afternoon shows. I was old enough to lie awake in bed that night for hours and think about how much bigger the world suddenly felt.
I was old enough to understand why I had a heavy feeling in my stomach when I went back to school the next day.
I Was Scared
All of the sudden, I didn’t believe in safety. For all I knew, a plane was going to crash into my house while I was gone, or later that night when I tried to enjoy my computer game time. Maybe, someone was going to come into my school and try to hurt my classmates.
My family was set to go on a trip to Florida in a few weeks, and I didn’t want to go anymore. What kind of world were we living in?
As a 7-year-old, no one expects you to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but I promise you, I could. And I did.
I imagined what it would have felt like to sit on a plane, in danger, with absolutely no one there to help you.
I imagined what it would have felt like to receive a phone call, telling me that my mother had died that morning on a plane, or that my father had gone to work, and his building fell down with him in it.
I’d always liked firefighters and police officers. It made me feel good to know brave people like them existed.
But, I thought about what it might have been like to go to work as one of them that day, and hear someone tell me planes had crashed downtown. How would I even start to help fix such a big mess?
Sometimes, I’m Still Scared
Every year on 9/11, I find myself thrown back to that very strange and sad day in second grade.
I cry for for everyone negatively effected by the events of that day. When I fly now, I can’t eat anything other than hash browns (my personal cure for an upset stomach), and I lose sleep during the nights leading up to my flights.
September 11, 2001 was the first time in my life I ever wanted to give up on the world. My heart physically hurt. And believe me, that’s a very weird, heavy feeling to have when you’re 7.
Unfortunately, that feeling resurfaces to this day, every time I see a tragedy occur somewhere in this nation.
But, I Know There Is Always Hope
Thankfully, at 7, I was also old enough to see how many people around me started hanging American flags outside of their houses.
I was old enough to understand that the groups of people I saw praying together on TV meant that the police officers and firefighters weren’t the only brave people in the world.
I was old enough to see that even though the United States had been hurt, we didn’t plan to let this tragedy destroy us.
While 9/11 represents the first time I realized just how terribly the world can rear its ugly head, it also represents the first time I felt the reassurance of hope in a dark time.
I learned that no matter how lost you might feel, even sitting in your own second grade desk, you will always find hope. And hope will always find you.
Your family will comfort you, people will step up to fix what is broken and you will discover that there’s a special kind of bravery within yourself, reserved for the scariest of days.
So nowadays, when someone older than me tries to tell me I’m too young to remember 9/11, I’m not scared to tell them all of this. I experienced the emotional roller coaster, too.
I saw the world change significantly, and then I grew up in it.
I learned you have to keep moving forward when something bad happens. And I learned that no matter what happens, we live in a great nation that will always bounce back, progress and make me proud to call it my home.