2020 has been a year for the history books, full of social change, biomedical politics and a highly infectious virus spreading across the entire globe. We have seen mass graves in NYC, spoken up about systematic racism and watched people fight over toilet paper. The Pandemic of 2020 is yet another moment Americans took the brunt of the impact.
Writing this, I find it surreal next year will mark the 20th year since September 11th. I find it hard to continue to write this, it’s not my usual subject, but it’s important, it’s life. We must all be able to discuss these kinds of topics, they matter. Our history matters. In the same metropolitan city as the mass grave sites during COVID-19, was victim to another major historical event. It may have been my first real experience as a human with enough self-knowledge to recognize what was happening. The birth of a major chapter in history.
That’s what it is now, children are learning this as a chapter in their history classrooms. I remember not that long ago when this mind-blowing fact dawned on me, all children in high schools all were not alive during the events of 9/11. Their parents and grandparents alike have stories about that day, but the youth of today and forever more will not.
So much can happen in 20 years. I remember the day pretty clearly. It’s one of those moments scarred into your brain, like for generations before me when the Challenger Exploded, when Elvis died, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. All unforgettable moments in history.
As a fresh preteen at merely 12 years old, I was shielded at my school from the news. It was not until I arrived home, on my Canadian street, did I find out something happened. My neighbours had honourably hung an American Flag along with a black flag on their front porch. With child ignorance, “Why do you have an American flag? We’re Canadian.”
“Did you not find out?”
“Go home and talk to your parents.”
And so I walked the 6 driveways up to my home. Surprised to see my mother’s boyfriend’s car in the driveway, he wasn’t usually home until later than I. I opened the door and he was downstairs watching TV. Now I cannot remember if he told me anything really about the event or situation, but I remember he did not stop watching that TV all night. I sat on the phone talking to my friends about what was happening, trying to piece it all together. Make sense of it as a youth, watching our parents looking for answers. Little did I understand, they too were looking for answers.
Other than the large presence in the media, I really only remember one other thing. That one thing that always stood out to me. At that time heard that if you typed 9 1 1 into a Microsoft Word document using the font, Webdings, it would create a plane and two tall buildings, suspiciously looking like The World Trade Center buildings. And it did. I tried several years later and noticed it had changed. Hm.
Consciously it wasn’t for another several years did I really come to question the events of that day. Sure we talked about it, I learnt more through the news and movies than I did from anyone else. I just absorbed the information, in grade 9, we were the first class of our generation to be able to take a trip to NYC since 9/11. We briefly visited Ground Zero, it was november and cool, our jackets couldn't keep the wind and mist out of our bones. As a result, we viewed Ground Zero, boarded up with construction walls and posters, from the glass windows of the building across from it. I have no recollection of what this building was, other than the child choir singing music, it must’ve been Christmas carols due to the time of year. Ah, Christmas in New York.
Reaching my first year of university I stumbled across the online conspiracy documentary, Zeitgeist. I was transformed into a world of critical thinking, understanding the greater impact of the attacks, the wars and elections that followed. It was my first real introduction into the world of American politics.
I was fueled with a passion to right a wrong, I was convinced there was government involvement in the events of September 11, 2001. How could a government do this to their people?! Funny enough, I still feel this way often about the American institution. Anywho, if you're unfamiliar with Zeitgeist, I recommended a watch. It covered a couple topics, all of which have had influence over my development. The content regarding 9/11 “Part 2: All the World’s A Stage” has similar details as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 movie. I should re-watch both, but from what I remember there were questions about the hard cut angles in the framework, there were questions about a certain substance and temperature at which something burns. There were wire transfers between some of the hijackers and the American government. You can watch the section here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ETFprVKi2g
As time moved on, as did my perspective of the situation. My passion and fuel was molded into other areas of my life, as is typical of someone who wasn’t directly burdened by the death or loss. My life moved on, but the history and the story did not. As the 10th anniversary arrived in 2011 I was a recent graduate of my undergrad and starting my post-grad. I don’t specifically remember much from the anniversary. Every anniversary 9/11 images flood the media (even though images of the Towers were not allowed on air [at least on F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episodes] for several years.)
One image that is always at the front of my mind when I think of 9/11 was the story of the Falling Man. In the early days of 9/11 occurring these photos were not as common. It seemed cruel to post a picture of a man falling out of a window, forced by the ultimate doom that was alive in those offices. I didn’t even have the cognition in 2001 to release what those dots were. I had to ask. I was taught. I was broken.
Every anniversary the story of the Falling Man comes around. Time has shed light onto the details and life of the man in the infamous picture. The image is haunting, its the only word to describe the horror, the emotion of choosing to jump out to your death rather than to be crushed or burnt by the building around you. To free fall to a gruesome ending out of flight, fight or freeze impulsive decision making. I hate when people play the game, what would you do… because I cannot be certain until I am in that situation. A rather complex and intense situation such as the man, and many others, who jumped to their death cannot be imagined. Those emotions cannot be emphasized or considered. They are a tale only those who were there could imagine.
This is where I live now. I live where history happens, history defines the greater concept of our societies, but very few are defined by history. Those who lived that history, they can tell their stories and we will never understand them due to our own personal histories. I live in a place where compassion consumes my perspective, something that I developed within myself.
Tell me, what was your 9/11 story? Where were you when you found out?