September 11, 2001. Five years ago today. The day the safety and protection I had always valued and perhaps taken for granted as a citizen of America vanished in a blast of steel and glass and smoke and fire.
It was early on a clear, sunny morning. I was driving in my car with my then almost-two-year-old-son in the backseat, singing away to a tape of kid songs. I can’t for the life of me remember where I was going. I’ve been wracking my brain all day trying to remember. Maybe it is because the events to come quickly overshadowed whatever ordinary destination I had that morning.
Paul called my cell phone: “Are you listening to the news? Turn on KYW right now. Something really freaky is going on.” I immediately cut the kids songs and switched over to news radio. When I tuned in, the first plane had just hit the north tower. The news commentator still thought it was an unfortunate accident. I was listening when the second plane hit, and I heard the horror and shock in the voice of the reporter who was desperately trying to maintain his professionalism despite the sickening events that were unfolding before his very eyes.
I quickly dialed my mom. We talked while she watched the news on the TV in her office conference room and I listened to the radio, sharing our disbelief about what was occurring just a few hours away from me. While on the phone, we heard of the downed plane in western Pennsylvania and the attack on the Pentagon.
I had plans later in the day to head into downtown Philly to visit a good friend who had just had a new baby. When I mentioned those plans to my mother, she demanded that I go straight home. “We are under attack,” I remember her saying. “This mess is all around you. It might not be over yet. Who knows what will happen next. Go home. Don’t you dare go near the city.” For once, I listened to my mother. I called my friend and canceled. And I went home and hugged my little boy extra tight.
I sat in front of the TV all day, watching in awe and dismay. It was determined that this was an act of terror, unprecedented in the safe haven that always was America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. It couldn’t be possible. And yet it was. I imagined the terror in the final moments of the victims, the desperation of those trying to escape the city, and the grief of those listening and watching who had loved ones in Manhattan that morning. I was thankful our capitol was spared, that the White House was untouched and that our president was safe aboard Air Force One. But those people… those poor people who would not escape, and the children and wives and husbands and mothers and fathers who would be left behind. It was unthinkable.
The next day I decided it was safe to venture into the city to see my friend. It was a drive that I had made many times before. But this morning the city was almost deserted, still in mourning for the tragedy that had occurred just the day before in our neighboring city. I drove along, slightly apprehensive about being out and about so soon after the traumatizing events of the day before, eager to make it to my destination.
And then my eyes fell on a comforting and familiar site, a site I had passed many times before on this familiar drive, a site I had taken for granted even though I had visited it and taken the obligatory picture in front of it. The Liberty Bell. Independence Hall was next, a place I had also visited several times. For the first time I didn’t just drive by. I took a good, long look. Chills and goosebumps covered my body from head to toe. As I drove by I considered the values for which this landmark stands, values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Values for which our forefathers fought long and hard. Values that we will never view quite as casually again.
That day I vowed never to drive mindlessly past the Liberty Bell again. And I haven’t. Every time since, I’ve taken a long look at the bell, thought hard about what it stands for, and thanked God for the freedom we have, freedom that those mongers of hatred cannot take away from us.
And so I live. We live. Joyfully. Without fear. And we remember. We will always remember.