It’s been 12 years.
But tears still fill my eyes when I see those towers fall.
I still get goosebumps as firefighters take off their hats and surround memorials.
I still remember. And I was barely 12.
But it was the day I became an American.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was born a citizen, and for many, many generations my family has lived here in America and each of them probably have different days within their lives that they would consider that pivotal point where they went from citizen to American– the time when they realized they don’t just live here by accident. They weren’t just given this land.
I was walking to the bus stop when my friend from across the street called me over, telling me that planes hit the World Trade Center. At the time, I didn’t even know what those were. But I had a feeling it was bad. I knew that people were probably in those buildings. A knot formed in my stomach right away.
At school they grouped us all in front of little televisions mounted in the corners of every classroom, explaining to us what was happening and giving us time to open up our little journals and write about what we felt. Looking back, I still remember how I didn’t know much about anything involved in that day–I didn’t know about terrorists or the Taliban. Or government affairs. Or foreign relations. I didn’t know much about hate. But suddenly, I did know something. And that was loyalty.
In my journal that day I wrote a poem called “The Flag was still there”. Because that’s all I really knew.
The flag, I noticed, amidst the huddles of people crying out, arms stretched toward a spot of vacant sky once hidden by towers, was still fluttering on a rooftop. The flag on the fire station where hundreds of firefighters had ran for the last time through those doors that day, lunging into crumbing buildings and giving their lives to the flames, was still hanging. The beautiful flag, a symbol even my 12-year-old self knew that represented “home”, was still dotted among those already gone and laid to rest in the cemeteries of fallen soldiers; soldiers that would soon welcome so many lives home that day.
That flag remaining above the debris was my confidence that we’d make it through. I knew that much. And within moments, eyes glued to the television, my heart racing at the horrible sights of planes striking towers, people running in the streets and falling from hundreds of stories high, and news anchors grasping for words amidst their own tears and horror as we all watched together–within moments I became an American. An American so proud to call this place home. An American angry at the lives taken so violently that day. An American who didn’t know much about the country other than the fact that all these people sharing this land with me were Americans too, sharing freedoms together and dreams together. And when the planes hit those people, it hit every single one of us too.
It’s been 12 years, but I still remember that day. And although I know a little more than I did then as I scrawled a poem in my journal, I still think that the most important thing is the little piece of knowledge I held on to as a middle-school kid.
The flag is still there:
Reminding us of what makes us Americans.
Beckoning us to never forget.