7th grade pre-algebra class. A panic-stricken teacher ran in, interrupting our integers lesson, and whispered to Mrs. Potashnik. Taken aback, but quickly pulling herself together as the other teacher left the room, Mrs. P. told us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center. She followed up with something like, “But there’s nothing we can do about it now, so let’s get back to math.”
I don’t have many vivid memories from middle school, but I remember everything about that moment. My mind was racing, trying to remember what the World Trade Center was; I’d only been to New York City once, the previous year. What did this mean, and how the heck we were supposed to focus on learning about numbers after that?
In the hallway on the way to my next class, kids were crying and talking about what they saw; most teachers had turned on the news. As I walked into my social studies class, I was quickly reminded that the World Trade Center was partially comprised of the two tallest buildings in New York, which I now saw were on fire and billowing with smoke. I watched in horror as the towers fell.
Most Americans, or at least those who were old enough, can recall what they were doing when they found out about the terrible events of 9/11. Of course, those of us who were not directly affected that day have vastly different memories than those who were. We can’t even begin to fathom the pain and terror felt by the victims, survivors, and their families. But, no matter where we were, we all felt a connected sense of grief, followed by resilience, patriotism, and eventually, hope. Tragedy united us.
Fifteen years later—where are we? Possibly more than any other time since 2001, we are desperate to be united again. Our world is filled with hate and terror. How quickly we forget. How quickly we allow our beliefs to divide us and lead us once again to violence. People all over the world are afraid to go to movie theaters, nightclubs, parades, even work and school. Places that seemed untouchable are becoming symbols of tragedy and divide. We’ve resorted back to post-9/11 fear. We live in a world where, when we walk into a room, we look to find the emergency exits just in case.
I hope we can unite before another major tragic event has to remind us that we’re all the same. We’re all just human, living this one short life that we were given. I wish everyone, especially those seeking hatred and violence, could understand that at its core. We are only a little blip in time, here for a millisecond. We are one race.
Last night, I visited a beautiful 9/11 memorial here in Buffalo. At Gratwick Waterfront Park in North Tonawanda, 3,000 full-size flags were set up, each with the name and background of a 9/11 victim. The sheer magnitude of the memorial was overwhelming and breathtaking. 3,000 lives taken in a matter of hours. 3,000 families and countless other friends and relatives left to grieve. 3,000 human beings whose milliseconds were senselessly cut even shorter.
On this day, fifteen years later, I hope you choose to spread love over hate. Individually, we may only be a little blip, but collectively, we can be a force.