15 years old.
Half my life has gone by in the shadow of those ominous planes, those falling towers, that battle-scarred flag.
In my memory, I was far older and more mature than merely 15 on 9/11/01. But then the details fall into place: sitting in sophomore science lab when the PA system crackled at a strange time. Shifting through the muted hallways searching for my best friend. Finding out my parents had been waiting in the pick up line for hours, until school would release us. Would we come back to school the next day? Did I know anyone in flight, en route to somewhere that might be the next target? What was the next target? Because on that day, we all thought more was coming. I was only 15. I couldn't drive myself home. I was hardly used to high school. But when a moment defines you - your nation - of course you don't feel young. Fear does that to you.
My biggest fear was irrational at that moment, but real: would there be a draft? Dad enlisted during Vietnam, so I know how that environment marked his early adulthood. I remember sitting in our living room, cross-legged on the carpet, close enough to reach the TV when I asked the question to my parents,. In their eyes, I was too young to be having those concerns; but I grew up quick after 9/11/01.
Perhaps that's why I can't believe I was 15.
Half my life ago.
It defined all of us that day. Just like JFK's assassination to my parents' adolescence. Just like Pearl Harbor to my grandparents'. Want to know more about World War II? Countless books, interviews, artifacts will help future generations understand. Just ask a Baby Boomer about hearing the news of JFK and you'll immediately identify the sorrow and shock of their memories. But 9/11 is a memorial. A museum. A timeline. A collection of victims' stories and histories that ended that day. But that's not all.
A new wave of literature is emerging in this 15th anniversary year. Anyone under the age of 20 today will not remember how it felt to live through that day. Didn't feel the seismic shift of fear. Then, of patriotism.
It was a beautiful thing. Something so tragic and horrific tore a hole in our collective consciousness, and we patched it up with bandages of red, white, and blue. Our nation was strong. We had pride in the first responders. In the survivors, in the incredible strength demonstrated by families of the fallen. Anytime the radio played America The Beautiful, we paused in reverence. During the National Anthem, a deeper appreciation stirred in our souls. After such pain, we had a chance to grow more resilient.
Half my life ago.
Other experiences in high school led to shaping the 30 year old I am today. The everyday pressures, pains, and triumphs play into the life I live, the relationships I maintain, the fragility and the tenacity of my determination. When I wanted to run away, to start over, to re-define myself after high school, 9/11/01 was the standard. I could try on new identities like outfits, find new places to live, surround myself with strangers, but we would all have one thing in common; a thread to our life's narratives that would always bring me back to my core. That core was rattled, then repaired; much like my exterior in the years to follow. But, like that 15 year old, I came out stronger. Every time. I've learned this over half my life.
7 years ago I started writing a story that would become a complete manuscript. When I get asked if it's autobiographical, it's hard to respond. Set in the years directly after 9/11, it follows a timeline similar to mine, and the protagonist has familiar urges to simultaneously move on from the life she knew and hold tightly to the concept of home. But her story isn't mine. Just like mine isn't yours. But we do have something in common if you remember that day: the fear, the resolve, the growth. I wrote about what it was like to wake up on 9/12/01 and every day after with a defining moment at age 15, that wouldn't be my only defining moment. Writing is a challenge; so is revising; and querying; and rejection. But on 9/12/01; and 9/11/02; and 9/11/11; and today, 15 years later --- half my life later --- I woke up with new knowledge. New resolve. And I won't be giving up. Because I see the world from the perspective of my young nieces and nephew, as well as the hundreds of students I serve daily, and I know they need more stories about experience, about learning from tragedy, about hope.
15 years ago, we needed hope.
15 years later, we still need hope. We still need love. We still need each other.