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Everyone has a 9/11 story.
Mine is nowhere near as dramatic as so many others, thankfully, but it’s still a day I’ll never forget.
I was 19 years old, just a couple of weeks into my first year at Syracuse University. It was my first time living anywhere other than my hometown of Montreal. I was quite homesick. Wondering if I had made the right choice to move to a different country to study journalism. I hardly knew a soul and wasn’t doing a great job of meeting anyone (fast forward three years and I didn’t go a great job of meeting anyone throughout my entire time at SU, but that’s a different story).
I remember the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 vividly. It was a beautiful Tuesday.
I had class that morning, but was chatting with my mother via MSN messenger (is that still a thing?) on my new/first laptop. When the first tower was struck, she told me to turn on the TV. I turned on NBC. I remember all these details clearly. The Today Show was on.
It was all so shocking, but we didn’t really know what was going on. I remember thinking/hoping it was a horrible accident — it had to be, right? — but also terrified of the repercussions. My mother told me my older brother worked near the towers. She was chatting with him, too, and all of a sudden he stopped writing back. That was nerve-wracking.
I remember, like so many others, seeing the second tower getting struck live on TV. That was mind-numbing. Felt like we were watching a movie. And that’s when we all knew something was up.
I was very nervous about my brother.
I remember going to psychology class shortly thereafter. I remember sitting in the auditorium, close to the front. Hardly any of us had cell phones. No social media. (Imagine if that was a thing back then?)
I remember seeing the teacher’s assistant gasp. I remember her telling the professor something in his ear. I remember the professor telling us that the towers had fallen and that we should all leave.
I remember the hysteria. Lots of these students were from the NY/NJ/CT area. Many of them had friends or relatives working in the area.
I remember the mad dash to go back to our dorms and being mesmerized by the images on TV.
I remember my mom telling me, when I got back, that my brother had to evacuate but was ultimately OK. I believe he went to a friend’s house. Thank God.
I don’t remember much else from that day. The rest is a blur. But I do remember the sounds of the helicopters that night. They told us injured people were being flown in from NYC to Syracuse, about a one-hour flight away, because the local hospitals were at capacity.
I remember waking up super early the next day. I was volunteering at a student radio station on campus, WAER, and my shift started at something like 4:30 a.m. I remember turning on CNN when I woke up, wondering if yesterday was some kind of nightmare.
The first image I saw was the rubble, still smoking. I remember this was when CNN introduced the scroll at the bottom of the screen for the first time. They were reporting live from ground zero, and it all felt surreal.
I remember the feeling walking to the station from my dorm on that dark morning. No one one was out. The campus and the world felt empty and foreign. It felt scary. Was World War 3 about to start? Are more attacks coming? What the heck am I doing here? Should I just go home? All these thoughts, and many others, raced through my mind.
I remember classes being canceled that entire week. Some kids left. Everyone had a connection.
I remember nothing feeling the same. We talked about it a lot in school. And then, slowly but surely, life resumed, but again, nothing was the same. The world changed forever that day.
Luckily for me, I don’t know anyone who died that day. I can’t imagine the pain today brings to those who did.
A few years after 9/11, I was living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was watching the tremendous HBO Sports documentary, Nine Innings from Ground Zero. If you haven’t seen it, you gotta. It’s about the 2001 World Series in the backdrop of that horrific day and its aftermath
What makes it so special is it features Yankee fans who were affected by 9/11. One of the fans looked familiar. And then it hit me, it was our next door neighbor. Her face was different, I always thought. But I didn’t know why. Well, then I learned. It was burnt. She worked in one of the towers. But she survived.
I never spoke to her about it. But I’ll never forget her. In my mind, she was a hero.
Yesterday, I took my kids to WWE Smackdown at Madison Square Garden. We had an amazing time. One of those nights we’ll never forget. My friend Paul Heyman went out of his way to make the night supremely memorable for them, and I will love him forever for it. He’s the best.
I love getting to experience these moments with them, especially at their age. They are so young and innocent. That was their first time in NYC since the pandemic. NYC can be a scary place to a young kid, particularly at night. I’ll never forget how tightly they held my hand as we walked from our car to MSG. I love those moments and hope they last forever, at least in my mind.
I knew they would mention 9/11 at the event since it was so close to the anniversary, so we talked about it on the car ride over. I wanted to know what they knew about it, because I know their school had talked to them about it. But, they are 9 and 7, so they only know so much, I thought.
To my surprise, they knew quite a bit. Their knowledge was slanted towards the first responders and heroes who risked their lives to save others, though. I liked that a lot. Those men and women should be worshipped. True saints.
I am trying to be more present these days. Trying to remind myself of these moments because I know they go by so fast. Trying to appreciate them because I know others can’t.
So, I told myself, on that car ride, that I am so lucky to be their dad, twenty years removed from that shy, homesick kid who was completely confused about what he was doing in this foreign place, able to talk to my boys, who I love more than anything, about that day. I also felt guilty for all the kids who lost a parent that day, too. How unfair.
Now more than ever. That day hits differently as a parent.
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. Two decades. Where has the time gone?
Those who survived that day, in any way shape or form, are heroes in my mind. I hope they are able to find peace and happiness in the fact that they survived. I hope they have been able to live productive lives since then.
Those who didn’t survive will never be forgotten. They are all heroes, too.
Let’s remember them today, and every day.
Let us also remember those who lost their lives in the aftermath, as well.
And let’s use that nightmare of a day to remind us to live life to its fullest with gratitude, appreciation and compassion.
I will always remember, and I hope you do, too.
Please feel free to share any thoughts/feelings you have about this day below. As I’ve said before, I don’t think I’m a good writer, but this felt good to write. Much more cathartic than a social media post/picture.