16 Years Later

by Jessica Poe, Omega Alpha

Does anyone really remember who they were before September 11th?

I have fleeting, frayed memories of a child growing up without a care in the world beyond what friend I was going to play with at recess. I remember walking to the penny candy store down the street from my house, unattended, and returning with a fistful of Blow Pops. Worries were few and possibilities were endless.

When that moment struck, when I first witnessed the unimaginable damage and destruction taking place in New York City, things changed for the 11-year old girl I used to be. Beyond familial devastation, internally, I was broken. That shiny, protective outercoat I wore throughout my life dimmed. The world no longer looked like a sea of opportunity and hope. Instead, it looked bleak, scary, and heartbreaking.

I soon found myself partaking in repetitive behaviors: unable to sleep without checking the bedroom closet and closing the door, unable to leave the house without rummaging through my backpack in search of a few favorite pencils, unable to walk through aisles of the grocery store because the number of other shoppers was too great. I no longer wanted to play outside, looking up to that big blue sky, and instead I became somewhat of a recluse. Little did I know, what I was suffering from was trauma-induced obsessive compulsive disorder, the trauma being the inability to process the events of September 11th.

With every year that passed, the anniversary of that horrific event remained as painful and fresh as that gorgeously sunny day in 2001, until I attended my freshman year of college and met a young man whose father, a New York City firefighter, died that day as he ran into a burning building so many others desperately ran away from. It was shocking, almost stunning to encounter a family member of someone who passed away, in my mind, as tragically as anything I had ever heard in my life. And yet, as I read more about him, I found that the shock stemmed from my inability to completely grasp his selflessness and sacrifice. This man was larger than life. He was beloved by his family, so many friends, and colleagues; he loved his job and everything it stood for; he came to terms with the fact that his profession required his understanding to place every person’s value above his own. And while I did not know this man, simply hearing his name and his story softened my heart on that dark September day.

Life in this day and age often feels similar to the restlessness I felt after September 11th. There are so many unknowns, so many areas of conflict and strife, so much unrest. Children know too much too early, adults are divided, and our identity as a country is temperamental. But do you know what gives me hope? The idea that in the very darkest hours, heroes emerge, simply in the name of doing what is right. The thousands of men and women, police officers and firefighters who laid their lives on the line. The employees of those buildings who helped guide others out of those buildings before thinking of themselves. The individuals that volunteered at Ground Zero. And the countless memories that have travelled across these last sixteen years of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and loved ones. When I reflect upon those men and women and remember this day for what I have come to know it as, the honoring of thousands of heroes, I can feel that little girl inside of me, begging to come out and play once again.

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