“Where were you on September 11?”
That’s the question that arises every year at this time. Besides July 4, it could arguably be one of the most profound dates in American history. As my mom puts it- it’s my generation’s “where were you when Kennedy was shot.” You just know. The memory is so vivid that every single emotion from that day bubbles up, and for a specific moment in time, our country is in sync again.
I used the extremely recognizable title of Alan Jackson’s song as the title of my post because our world did stop that day. And it blows my mind now to remember how differently we functioned as a society before that moment in history. So here’s my story:
I was 24 years old. I had been out of college for just over a year, and was living in Florida, working for Disney. I was off that day, and my family was in town visiting. We were getting ready to go to Animal Kingdom. I had taken my sister on a short walk to see the giant gazebo that over-hung a lake on my apartment property. We were walking back when the maintenance man stopped us.
“Did you hear about the plane that hit the World Trade Center this morning?”
What? No…We went back into my apartment and shared the news with my parents, thinking some little prop plane had crashed. (At this point in time, we were closer to the JFK, Jr. plane crash than anything, and I think that’s the sort of thing our thoughts led us to. Certainly not terror). We turned on the TV, watching as the reporter broadcast from a street, the Twin Towers in the background.
As she was reporting, a passenger airliner came into view in the background. The unthinkable happened- the plane (so slowly, it seemed), flew deliberately and steadily into the second tower.
I think we all stopped breathing right then and there. We hear so much horror like this on a regular basis now, and we forget how completely foreign the idea of terror attacks were back then. Even watching the destruction on tv, I don’t think it processed, what this actually meant.
We kept watching for a while longer, and we just couldn’t take it anymore, so we got up to head over the Animal Kingdom (like I said, I don’t think our brains were capable of processing the extent of what was happening).
I can’t remember the exact order of events after that. But as we were driving down I-4 towards Walt Disney World, this horrific news was all that was on the radio. We heard live breaking news that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. We turned the radio off.
As we pulled up to Animal Kingdom to park, we were quickly diverted to turn around- the parks had been closed. Wait, what?? They closed Disney World?? So we went to Downtown Disney. They were in the process of closing down all the shops and restaurants. We got back in the car and decided to go to a movie- Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. There was a bomb scare in the theater about 2/3 of the way through the movie.
I think it was on the drive to Winter Park that we heard live reports of the towers collapsing. It is truly impossible to express the hole that forms in your heart and soul when yes, you were sad about people dying, and then for it to evolve into THOUSANDS upon thousands of souls losing their life because they couldn’t get out in time. It’s horrifying. And devastating. It feels like a sucker punch to the gut. It will steal your breath and your thoughts. I don’t know how future generations will ever understand (I hope they never have to!).
I come from a firefighter family, so it’s the stories of the emergency workers that always rip at me the most.
So that’s my story…that’s where I was. And every year I ask myself the question- “where were you when the world stopped turning?” It’s a moment in time I will never forget. And every year on September 11, I wear my special Mickey American Flag, because it tells my story. It’s incredibly personal, and yet incredibly universal.