I was 14 when the towers came down. I remember not knowing what the World Trade Center was, since I had always associated them with the name Twin Towers. I remember my Latin teacher being extremely upset during our last period, and other kids desperately trying to get ahold of loved ones on the phone, but the lines were down. Our very unpopular principal had to request several times over the loud speaker for classes to continue, and to shut all TVs off.
I remember running through my front door when I got home that afternoon, desperate to see the coverage and finally understand what was going on. The first image to meet my eyes was that of a man jumping and falling…falling…falling down hundreds of stories, because he was caught in the floors above the fires and there was no possibility of him getting out. And then they repeated it, over and over again. It has since been forever imprinted in my mind.
We were living in the suburbs of Philadelphia at the time –it felt so close, yet so far away. There was a burning desire within me to hop in a car and drive the two and a half hours north needed to be among those who could desperately use any help they could get. Alas, I was too young. Never have I ever cursed my youth so much as I did that night.
For many of us, those events caused a rude awakening. The hallways of my high school were absolutely silent the next day. My first week of 9th grade had suddenly lost all its splendor. Prior to the attacks, I had considered myself all grown-up, in that way that teenagers do; however, I quickly realized that with the fall of those towers came the true end of my childhood.
I immediately began to see and understand that these things were not uncommon in the world, they had simply never happened close to home before. The mighty United States of America were not invincible, as they had promised in all of my history classes. Human beings hated other human beings and strove to destroy them – all concepts that at first blew my mind.
Fast forward 12 years to today. Has much changed? Yes, I will argue, for the worse. Now, not only are we fighting terrorists around the world, we’re also fighting ourselves here at home. The government stubbornly shut down and left more than 800,000 people with so many monetary uncertainties that I won’t even attempt to name them all, and yet, I haven’t read a single article in which anyone in power has expressed any sense of remorse over the lack of resolution to a crucial topic affecting so many people.
In the years since the attacks, I have inevitably become exquisitely fluent in human hatred and its excruciating consequences because it surrounds me. I see it, hear it, and feel it every day on the street, in the subway, during a call with an angry client, in my daily frustrations, big and small. But there is one thing –one crucial thing—that I have learned, something so powerful and so much more important than anything else out there, that no matter how corny it is or how many times I have to repeat it out loud or write it in a blog post, I know I will continue to stand by it. And it is this: that love –and love alone— was, is, and always will be stronger than hate and death.
And that has been the rudest awakening of them all.
Photo: Belén Alemán / San Francisco, California, USA