The word in Russian for decade is десятилетие [desyatiletie]. Like some other words, I prefer the Russian version of this word because if you know Russian, it’s relatively easy to figure out what it means. The first part of the word, десяти [desyati], comes from десять [desyat], which means ten. The second part, летие [letie], comes from лет [lyet], the genitive plural of the word for year – год [god] in Russian. Thus, it is relatively easy to decipher the meaning of this word, unlike its English equivalent (unless you know Latin, which the average American does not).
It’s been a decade since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Ten years. All week, I have been seeing references to this, mainly in the form of people’s reflections about their experiences on that day. I will add my voice to the many who have already spoken and hope that I can offer something new. After all, most of the remembrances I have seen were written by adults who were adults in 2001. I was not.
Ten years ago today, I was asleep. I am writing this at approximately 12:40 am Eastern time, and we lived in the Eastern time zone in 2001, so I know this to be a fact. I was in middle school and my family was renting a house far from my school, so I always had to get up early on school mornings.
Most of the soon-to-be victims of the attacks were probably asleep, too. After all, most of them were either going to work the next morning, or going to the airport to fly to Los Angeles or San Francisco. They did not know, of course, that this would be the last night they would sleep, and that the next morning would be the last day of their lives.
To be honest, there was nothing especially extraordinary about that morning. I’m sure I ate breakfast (because I always eat breakfast). My teeth were probably bothering me because I’d just had an orthodontist appointment a few days before to have my braces adjusted. My mom dropped me off at school and I went to class, just as usual.
We had double English class that morning. Instead of having our usual forty-five minute class, we had a ninety minute period every Tuesday. The objective was to help us work on our writing during the second half of the class. At 9:00 EDT, halfway through double English, the school principal came into our classroom. She told us that something terrible had happened, something that our teacher didn’t even know yet. Then she told us about the airplanes and how they had flown into the Twin Towers. I’ll never forget my English teacher’s gasp of horror.
We basically didn’t have school for the rest of the day. For the rest of the morning, my grade gathered in the geography teacher’s classroom, where we watched news coverage. We saw loads of footage, of course, but what I remember most was the South Tower being hit. They showed it again and again: the North Tower was smoking and United Airlines Flight 75 just came out of nowhere, flying in a purposeful and terrifying arc before crashing into the South Tower.
Above is a pretty decent montage of news reports of the South Tower being hit. Until I saw the TV reports, I’d had the absurd idea that the hijacked planes were fighter jets flown from some mysterious country, not actual commercial airliners like the ones my family flew on when we went to look at houses in different cities before moving.
Words and Pictures and a Thousand Lives
A picture is worth a thousand words. That’s a common aphorism, and it’s certainly true concerning this photo of United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the South Tower. But in a macabre twist on this saying: how many lives is that picture worth? How many people were dying in that photograph? Let us calculate:
- 51 passengers (not including the hijackers), 9 crew
- Approximately 900 people in the South Tower
That’s according to Wikipedia. By that count, that picture is worth 960 lives. 960 people who were not supposed to die that day. 960 people who each meant something to someone. 960 people who were our fellow human beings.
Going to War
The months and then the years passed. The towers fell; we cleaned up the rubble. I learned more about the other two flights that were hijacked on September 11, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93. I learned about the people who had made final phone calls, both to loved ones and to 911 dispatchers, as they died.
We went to war. That was strange, going to war. Growing up, I learned about World War I and World War II and I sometimes used to wonder, out of simple curiosity, what it would be like to live during a war. Suddenly, I was living in a time of war, and it wasn’t anything like I imagined. There weren’t ration cards for food, or people working in munitions factories, as I had read in history books. Over the years, I’ve learned that war in the twenty-first century is very different from war in the twentieth century.
The Falling People
We’ve had memorials over the years. We’ve had time to reflect. We have seen so much footage since the day of the attacks and read so many accounts of what happened. But the images that have stayed with me over the years are ones of the falling people, those who jumped out of the World Trade Center because the alternative was dying in the fire.
I am not the only one haunted by this image – there has been an entire documentary made on the subject of that one photograph and a quest to find out who that poor doomed man was.
The documentary is long and I highly recommend watching it. I would also recommend watching the film United 93, which is about the flight that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
It’s been ten years. We have continued with our lives, as we must. But we also must remember September 11, 2001. Be honest: how often do you think of the 9/11 attacks? If you have not thought of them in a while, take some time and reflect. It’s the least we can do to honor the the victims.