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Seventeen years ago today marks one of the most horrific tragedies within our great Nation that will forever replay in my mind. I was 11 years old when we had an indoor recess for a reason unexplained, then, after recess, we gathered into one classroom where my principal broke the news. I was shocked, sad, and moreover, scared of what could happen next. I remember running to my father, crying as I leaped into his arms. He soothed me, told me we were safe where we were and, the next day, he and my mother kept us home to talk to us about the attacks and why some people don't like Americans. I remember sitting there on the couch with my brothers, speechless.
I remember less than a year later, on a family vacation, driving into Washington D.C. and seeing the construction work being done on the Pentagon, how much damage there still was over six months later. Then a few years later, seeing United 93, a film based off of the events of the passengers who took control of the plane that had been hijacked and brought down in a field in Pennsylvania. Though they lost their lives, they will always be remembered as heroes, those who sacrificed willingly to save others.
I have been to the monument and seen the Freedom Tower in all of her glory, gleaming with the sunlight reflecting off of her, standing strong and proud as though to remind the world that we will always rise again no matter how hard we're hit. I've seen the pools, rushing with water and etched with the names of all those we lost, forever immortalized in marble with flowers, American flags, and memorabilia left by family, friends, and anonymous tourists. I remember people walking, running, and chirping with conversations, the rushing water, and the general sounds of taxis and birds chirping. People carried on and read plaques as other took photographs, asked questions in tour groups, and even said prayers for those we lost that fateful day.
Due to the tragic events of 9/11, this memorial stands, but it also stands for the strength and resiliency of Americans. It stands for our ability to get back up after we've been dealt a severe blow, and it stands to remember those who died as they were before they left us, to remember their laughter, their jokes, their delicious recipes at the holidays, and the way they loved as well as the way they lived. So go ahead, take a photo, smile and don't be afraid to laugh. As we remember, we carry on, and we remember why this nation is so great.
We came together that day; we stood side-by-side and fought back. We didn't categorize based on race or ethnicity, on gender or sexual orientation. We were only one thing: Americans, as we have been for centuries. But sadly, today, we stand divided and we will continue to be until someone reaches a hand across the red line. We have differences, but we should celebrate them rather than point them out and make them the cause for such discontent within our borders. We all have a beating heart; we all have a mind and a pair of hands. Let's put them to good use and build just as we built the Freedom Tower.
As an American, 9/11 will always stay with me, the images etched into my mind as those names are etched into the marble. But that tragic day became a part of me as I became more resilient, more patriotic, and stronger after seeing our reaction and the construction of the Freedom Tower; despite the hurt, the sadness and devastation, we stood up, we held our heads high on the world stage and we brought those responsible for such bloodshed to justice. What September 11th means to me is to continue to uphold the American tradition of extending a hand to my neighbors and standing strong in the face of adversity.