I was driving to work when the first plane hit. It was 7:46am, our time, and I was in my car listening to Good Morning America, like I did every day on the way to work. Charlie Gibson reported that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. They were speculating on what happened; a reporter heading to the scene. Clearly a plane had problems with the navigation system. Weather or visibility wasn't an issue, so maybe it was pilot suicide and in the middle of the speaking they interrupted themselves. Another plane hit. You could hear the fear and confusion in Charlie's voice as he announced it. Then the pentagon. Then the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Suddenly, it was chaos. It was a country filled with fear.
Every plane in the sky became a weapon. Reports started coming in that planes were hijacked and headed to targets all over the country. Airports were shut down. Gas stations were mobbed and the only thing on TV was the news. People running and covered in gray ash. People diving out of the tower windows to their deaths. Images of burning buildings, burning people. Death. Children, business people, military personnel, travelers, firefighters and police. Someone I know was supposed to report to work in the towers that morning, but was at the dentist. Another's father was on his way to work when the cloud of ash was so thick he couldn't see out the windows of the car. Another's father died when the towers fell.
I don't know if it was my age or me just being naive, but I had never considered an attack on my country until that day. Wars were fought in other countries and in my lifetime, the only one I recalled was the Gulf War and we won. I didn't know anyone fighting that war, and my experience was in 6th and 7th grade, packing care packages for troops in social studies and wearing yellow ribbons to show our support. There was no blood in that war, not in my limited understanding of it, and no one would spill American blood on American soil. An Independence Day alien attack seemed more legitimate than the idea of humans attacking our country. But, it happened. And people died.
But, despite that death and the despair that is still felt by the families and friends of those who died, our country won that battle. We were hurt. We were broken and burned, but we remain. Our democracy remains. Our pride was stronger than ever. Flags were flown across the country, in front of homes where previous displays of patriotism were limited to 4th of July barbecues. Flags lined streets and people came together to say that while we were hurt, we would not back down. Our country stood for something in the days following 9-11. It stood for the human spirit. The American spirit. The knowledge that no one can break us. The understanding that the pursuit of terror would not make us live in fear. That fateful day showed those of us too young to be part of "The Greatest Generation" what Americans are made of. It was such a surprise.
In the past eight years, flags have come down. Politics went back to usual. Construction has progressed. Conspiracy theorists have had their say, and wars have been waged in lands far away. But, on this day, we as a country, remember. On this day, we as a country, mourn. On this day, as a country... not a democrat or republican, not rich or poor, not black or white, and not young or old... on this day, as a country, we grow stronger.