We Can Rebuild Her……..we think

September 11, 2001

Today marks the 11 year anniversary of one of the biggest atrocities ever committed on U.S. soil. It started as a bright, beautiful day just like any other. On that Tuesday morning we all started our lives just as we had before every other day. Children went to school, adults went to work, and life as we knew it didn’t seem any different. At 8:46am American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. As smoke billowed from the building time seemed to stop as we all tried to figure out what had just happened. At 9:03am the South Tower of the World Trade Center was rocked when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into it. Utter chaos took over as we continued to try to come to grips and figure out what was happening. Before the second plane hit we all figured a bomb had exploded, what else would cause such damage. It wasn’t until the second plane hit that we started to realize what caused the damage to the Twin Towers. That shock turned to fear when we saw the second plane cruise right into the South Tower. It had been aimed at that tower and we were under attack.

First you start to think that this attack was limited to the towers in NY, until the third plane crashed. At 9:37am American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Now we were being attacked in NY and Washington, D.C. What was going on? Why were these planes crashing? Are they just attacking NY and D.C.? What is happening to our country? The final crash occurred at 10:03am when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. Not since the attack on Pearl Harbor has the United States been at such a high level of fear, terror, sadness and confusion.

At the time I was a tour guide in Philadelphia. I drove a horse and carriage through the historic section of town known as Old City. I loved my job. Meeting new people, sharing my knowledge with them, and getting to work with a horse. Life was great. When the first tower was hit I was out behind our stable with a co-worker and we were grooming our horses and getting them ready for another day of work. One of our friends ran over to us and started freaking out because, as he said, the Twin Towers had been bombed. We dropped everything (thankfully our horses were tied up) and ran inside to crowd around the little TV set in the stable. Another friend of ours came running in and the four of us huddled around that TV and watched, like so many others, as the attacks continued. I don’t know how much time passed between the second crash and us finding the will to speak again, but it felt like hours. None of us wanted to go anywhere, we thought it was best to stay in front of the TV and find out what was going on. Not too long after the Pentagon was hit we received a phone call from the Park Service telling us not to work today. We thought it was because of the plane crashes, but it was actually because they received a bomb threat near the Liberty Bell. When they said bomb threat our minds were made up, we weren’t working that day. It wasn’t just because we were scared and confused by the plane crashes, it was because our lives were now in danger. You see, we all parked our carriages on the streets that run between the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. To this day I don’t know if they found anything near the Liberty Bell. But at the time, the threat was credible enough to make us all believe our lives were in danger.

So we just sat there and watched and wondered. Smoke billowing from the Towers, smoke billowing from the Pentagon. And then time stopped. At 9:59am the South Tower crumbled and collapsed onto the streets below. We screamed and gasped out of shock and fear, and huddled together and cried over the lives that had just been lost. We were reeling from the shock of watching hundreds or thousands of people die right before our eyes. News of the plane crash in PA made these attacks feel much too close to home. At 10:28am the North Tower collapsed from the structural damage and fires raging inside. All we could do was sit there and feel helpless. There was nothing we could do, nothing we could say.  I don’t remember when our boss told us to go home, but we all shuffled out into the daylight stunned and terrified. Took me a while to be able to think. My friend told me I could come stay at her place for a while, and I told her I needed to call my mom. At the time my mom worked in one of the high rise buildings on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. Academic Housing. I was afraid for her because she was in a high rise building. I needed to talk to her, needed to know she was okay, needed her to know I was okay. I didn’t get to see or talk to her for a few hours because all the phone circuits were a mess. I remember going home and drifting between shock, confusion, sadness and anger.  You never think something like this will happen during your lifetime. The sad fact is that this could happen again. There are people in this world who are so filled with hate that they think slaughtering innocent people is what their god wants them to do. Women, children, elderly, disabled….it doesn’t matter who gets in their way. If they hate your country enough they will kill you for being a citizen.

I remember when I was growing up asking my mom what it was like when she was younger. She lived through the roughest times in American history. The 1960’s. I would always look at her with this mix of sadness and confusion when she would tell me stories about how she was treated. It was hard enough to be black in the 60’s, even harder if you were light-skinned black like she was. She told me about the sadness of losing Martin Luther King Jr. She told me how hard it was to be a Texan after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX. Most of all she told me how she didn’t want me to have to live in fear of what hatred would cause other people to do. When I finally got home and saw my mom we hugged for a while and didn’t really talk much. I remember her looking at me with this sadness in her eyes. My grandfather had the attack on Pearl Harbor as a scar on his heart. My mom had the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy as a scar on her heart. Now I had Columbine and 9/11 as a scar on my heart.

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