It’s a question we often ask each other the way our grandparents ask one another, “Where were you when JFK was shot?”
In 2001, I had just entered high school and was lost on my way to the washroom. I was in the stairwell retracing my steps back to my classroom, when two boys appeared at the top of the stairs.
One of them was visibly upset and told his friend, “A plane just flew into the building!”
“Did you see it?” the other boy asked.
“It was on TV!” replied the first.
I didn’t know what they were talking about, but the seriousness in his voice made curious. By the time I made my way back to class, my teacher had turned on the television to CNN, where we watched in disbelief as smoke billowed from the World Trade Center. Minutes later, there were cries from my classmates as we watched another plane fly into the second tower.
Around me there were girls crying, teenage boys sat quietly, mouths agape, while my teacher sat paralyzed in his desk holding his head in his hands.
When the periods changed, students spoke animatedly to their friends in the hallways, rushing to their next class to get in front of a television.
My second class was an introduction to computer programs like PowerPoint and Excel. My teacher absolutely refused to turn on the television for the class. We took our seats in front of our desktops and continued our lesson when a man I had never seen before, burst through the classroom.
“Turn on your TV!” he yelled at my teacher. She began to protest but the man moved to the television and began searching the channels for the news. “Who cares what you think?” he told her, “This is history!”
It was just in time for us to see the first tower collapse.
The images of people trying outrun the plume of dust are seared into my brain, as are the endless sheets of paper floating through the air, gently landing on the ground.
Students wept around me. Our teacher wiped away tears.
“This is going to start a war.” The man said, shaking his head. I later learned he was a Religious Studies teacher, sort of a rebel of the faculty; rough around the edges but espousing Bible script like it was nobody’s business. He stayed with us for the rest of the period, arms crossed and somber.
By the time the second building collapsed, there were tear stained cheeks and looks of horror throughout the entire school.
At home I stayed glued to the television watching as the number of confirmed fatalities grew. It was a watershed moment, one that altered the course of events for the United States and the rest of the world. For me personally, it was an event that marked the end of innocence, where my protective bubble of youth was burst, exposing me to unconceivable pain and tragedy.
I try to remember the outpouring of support from the world to the American people, the helping hands and images of firefighters and police officers braving the rubble to rescue those in need. I try, but when I think of September 11th, I can only feel the heaviness it brought to my physical being, as I felt all at once the weight of the realities of the world washing over me.
That’s where I was on September 11th, 2001, where were you?