Here’s What You Should Remember About 9/11

By Robert Kennedy III

I suppose we all have days in our lives we are supposed to remember. I really try to remember the happy ones. I remember my wedding and smiling with nervousness as my wife-to-be came down the aisle. I was very calm, everyone said. But, I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness! I have no idea how I’m going to take care of this woman!”

I remember my daughter’s birth. I remember my sons’ as well. I was there for all of them. But, I remember my daughter’s specifically because it was the first. This was one of those surreal moments when I realized that I was a grown-up and I couldn’t take “grownup-edness” back to the store. You see all movies and shows where a child is born and the doctor or midwife holds the baby up, rosy cheeked, curiously looking around at the world, coo-ing after crying for about 3 seconds. TOTALLY FAKE by the way. It’s nothing like that. My daughter was wrinkly, with white goo…ok, I won’t gross you out any further. Let’s just say I wasn’t prepared. But, I still loved her immediately. It was a happy life changer and a moment I will never forget.

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We remember some of the happy moments. But, there are some moments where it seemed as if time paused and you were really living in an alternate universe. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in my high school classroom already teaching. School began at approximately 7:50 and my students were doing their normal routine, trying to get out of the classroom assignments to do experiments and activities. Quite often, we could be found in the halls with tape, measuring sticks, things that bounced and spun, running around. Yes, sometimes it was a bother for some of the other teachers. But, I was a young teacher working to make sure the students understood that physical science wasn’t just another class they HAD to take.

At about 8:40, another opened my door saying frantically, “TURN ON THE TV, TURN ON THE TV!” Then, she left. In my mind, I asked the obvious questions. “Turn it on? To what channel? Why? What am I supposed to see?”

I turned on the classroom television and it took me a few moments to understand what was going on. I saw a shot of the world trade center on the morning news. Growing up in New York, I had seen that shot many times before and by now it wasn’t a big deal. Except…this time, there was smoke emerging from one of the towers. I watched the ticker at the bottom of the screen which explained one of the towers had been hit by something. At this point, they weren’t sure if it was a missile, a plane or a helicopter. There were conflicting reports at the time and as I switched from channel to channel, all of the available stations were covering this story with differing levels of certainty. My restless students took this opportunity to talk with their friends as if they were watching a movie and halfway expected to hear they were being punked. We continued to watch and shockingly, while we were watching, another plane hit the second tower. At this point, the classroom turned silent and it began to set in that maybe, just maybe, this was real. There were no special effects, no salacious angles, no build-up music. This was happening live…right in front of us. We watched in horror as the first tower collapsed, then the second. Yet, it still felt very surreal. It didn’t feel like a real day. This day, which started so unremarkably, as most days did, had turned into a day of confusion, one which we knew would sit in our memories forever. We could only hope there was nothing worse to come. Then, we saw footage of the Pentagon.

I remember the horror and surreal feeling of that day. But, what I remember most was the feeling of unity that followed. It seemed everyone in the US was equally appalled at what had taken place and looked for comfort wherever they could find it. All of our streets and bridges were filled with militia. It was scary, yet, people were strangely comforted by their presence. Sporting events were now a venue for hope and compassion instead of simply a televised competition. Everything had meaning as most seemed to to recognize how tenuous life actually is. There were so many stories of unassuming calls to loved ones before the events of the day…calls which would be the very last time those loved ones spoke. These stories made so many of us realize how intentional our conversations need to be. You just never know when the last one can occur.

I called my wife at work to let her know what was happening. She knew. I told her I loved her. We spoke about her family living close by in New Jersey. She wanted to go home. She wanted to be close to her loved ones to also let them know she loved them.

I lost a friend in the towers that day. I hadn’t spoken to her in years although our families were great friends and we were in high school together. But, I remember being filled with a sense of pride at what she was up to. Then, I felt a pang of guilt for not being more committed to simple conversations. I’m not sure of the likelihood she and I would have connected. But, there were definitely family members I could be a bit closer to. Because I was so buried in my own “stuff”, there were people I hadn’t intentionally spoken to in a long time. That needed to change! I needed to reconnect. I needed to let people know they were important. I needed to let them know I REMEMBERED them.

You might remember the tragedy of the day. You may have even been affected directly. But, what I want to remember is the connection, the re-connection and the ‘remembering each other before we are only a memory.’