Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Difference In a Decade

I'm reflecting today, as a lot of Americans are doing.

Sitting here in my darkened living room, I'm watching the 9/11 Memorial coverage while the rest of my house sleeps and finds comfort in their dreams. I've cried. I've smiled. I've reflected. Has it really been 10 years already? And so much has changed.

On September 11, 2001 I was 17 years old. I was a high school Senior sitting in my Advanced Computers class creating web pages for our school's website. I remember our small class laughing and having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand - it was the first class of the day, Senior year had just begun a few weeks prior, my friends and I were making plans for my upcoming 18th birthday the following weekend.

In the midst of every day life, our teacher Ms. Price announced that an airplane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

I don't think any of us fully grasped the impact of what that meant, and would come to mean for the rest of our lives. As we worked, Ms. Price turned on a live news feed because she realized as an adult that this was a turning point in life as we know it. While the news played, I remember thinking that it was scary - not knowing if the plane had been full of people, not taking into account that the building was filled with people. It was an accident in my mind, a sad accident and not done on purpose.

Shortly after that, we watched as the second plane crashed into the South Tower and the buildings came down. Our class work came to a screeching halt as we all watched in horror. Our teacher's voice began to crack as she spoke to us, explaining that this was a planned attack and not an accident. The land of the free, and the home of the brave would be changed forever.

When class ended, I signed out of my classes for the rest of the morning - terrified. I called my parents on my way home from school, watching the skies on the short drive praying that I wouldn't see an airplane flying overhead. I made it home in record time, and watched the news and pacing the living room until lunchtime when I went to work.

In 2001 I worked with my mother at the county's sheltered workshop. I was the file clerk and I answered the telephones for the receptionist when she needed a break. It wasn't my career choice, but it gave me gas money and I had a lot of fun working there. In my 17 year old mind, I would work there until the end of the next summer, before going to college to study journalism and becoming a contributor for Rolling Stone magazine. I had no aspirations for a spouse or children, only to be successful and get out of my small hometown. A decade ago, I was alive with the anticipation of change and the promise of my future.

A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, I was in a car wreck that resulted in a lengthy hospital stay followed by being home bound for the majority of my Senior year. Initially, it was unknown whether I would walk again. It wasn't believed that I would be able to have children if I wanted to. My own mortality was apparent for the first time in my short life. It was eye opening to my 17 year old self, the things in life that I wanted to experience, and the people who I'd taken for granted that gave me their love and friendship. Sometimes it takes a terrible event to bring people together as the victims of the 9/11 attacks were forced to show our nation.

Ten years later, in 2011 I am a mother of 3. I've been married twice and divorced once. I never finished college, dropping out because I missed my life at home. My house sits 2 blocks down and one street over from the house I grew up in, and my oldest daughter attends first grade at the same school I graduated from. I've made a career out of working for the county's sheltered workshop, and though things have changed and continue to change, I can't see myself leaving because it's what I love and who I am.

I still dream about the future a lot as an adult: a larger home for my children to grow in, a date with my wonderful husband, promotions and raises at work... It's the unexpected realities of the present that keep me grounded though: mortgages, sick kids, budget cuts.

Once, I lived for change and planned for my future, and now that I'm an adult I realize that you can't prepare for a twist of fate. I cherish a little something about each day as I'm living it, and know that while I may not have fortune or fame I have enough memories to last a lifetime.

Never Forget.