I was an intern on Capitol Hill for one day: September 10th, 2001.
I did everything wrong, too. I got lost on the way to my representative’s office, I was a hot sweaty mess when I got there, I shook hands but didn’t really remember any names… I couldn’t complete the tasks asked of me (that I can’t remember now, but I know that I didn’t complete them well). When I was asked to run an errand, I got lost in the under-ground tunnels and also used the “Members-only” elevator (nobody stopped me, but then three representatives got on with me… and one of them was like “you must be a new intern.” To which I proudly said “yes.” They were kind to me, at least.) I left exhausted but proud and excited. I couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning to try again and get it right.
September 11th, 2001 was a crystal clear, technocolor day in Maryland. I was a senior in high school with an internship, which meant that I took a half-day schedule with pretty awesome classes. To fulfill some random requirement, I was taking a piano class that semester, so I started 9/11 in front of a piano surrounded by a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. I was 4 hours away from leaving school, getting on the Metro, and going back to my dream internship.
then the secretary came over the P/A system.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Johnson, do you have Kyra in your class right now?”
“Yes?” She replied. I looked up from my music, confused.
“I have a message from her dad. He says that she is, under no circumstances, to go to her internship downtown today.”
What? I breathed. “Why not?” I asked.
But the secretary was gone and my teacher only shrugged.
I, of course, was furious. Why would he do that? How could he do that?
I started digging into my messenger bag, furiously searching for quarters. I didn’t have a cell phone yet, so I was going to have to go to one of the pay-phones at school. I asked my teacher if I could go out there to call my father and ask what his problem was. She gave me permission. “He must have a good reason, though!” she called after me.
I got to the phone, shaking with rage.
I got one quarter into the phone when the secretary got onto the PA system again. This time, an All Call:
“Please pay attention to an important announcement.” Then there was a pregnant pause.
“We have received word that a commercial airplane has crashed into the Pentagon… there is also word that one airplane has flown into the World Trade Center in New York City… We do not know what is happening and we will keep you updated as needed. However, if you would like to watch events on your classroom television, you may do so…”
My father was an IT contractor and sometimes worked at the Pentagon. My entire body went numb.
I hung up the receiver and ran back to my classroom.
The television was already on and tuned into the Today Show.
I watched the plane fly into the second tower live on television.
I shared a class with a young woman who lost her father on that day. Many of my classmates had parents at the Pentagon that day, as well, though I don’t recall if there were any other losses at our school.
The rest of that day is such a blur for me. I remember walking home from high school and waiting for my step-father to pick up my little-sister and bring her home. I remember weeping uncontrollably on the phone with my grandmother. I remember making many phone calls to check in on loved ones and receiving many phone calls to confirm that we were alright. I remember confirming with my father that I did not go downtown and that he was not at the Pentagon that day. I remember my mom not coming home that night because she was running a Washington D.C. newsroom. I remember watching the coverage non-stop until falling asleep on the living room couch. I don’t think we had school the next day…
And then I watched the world change over 12 incredible years. Having not directly lost anyone, I don’t live with the tragic events on my conscious on a daily basis. There are days when I wake up without thinking of it, not for lack of caring, but just for lack of immediacy. Then again, the consequences of 9/11 haunt our day-to-day lives in subtle ways. Be it the extra security that we go through to get onto an airplane, the intolerance that some of us show our innocent Muslim neighbors, the veterans walking among us who wear the scars from the two resulting wars, or the many (great and small) memorials that dot our country, the shadows of that day are long reaching… maybe forever reaching. When I look back on who we were that day and who we are today, I can’t help but wonder about it all. What a people we’ve become. Good and bad. In our difference of 12 years, we are both good and bad.
I honor the men and women who woke up that beautiful morning, went to work or started to travel, but did not return home. I mourn with their families. I honor the men and women who ran into the buildings or into that burning crater. I honor the workers who worked, tirelessly, to pull survivors from the rubble (and who now suffer because of breathing in that debris). I honor the young people who signed up for military service the next day to serve their country in the most ultimate fashion and fought in two resulting conflicts. I honor the men and women who work to build the many memorials all around our cities and towns, and also those who are building the beautiful new tower in New York City.
As a senor in high school, I couldn’t do anything more for my nation than to get up, go to school, and carry on. My mother put an immediate kobash on my internship on The Hill. They moved me to a field office in downtown Silver Spring instead–significantly less glamorous, though the work was still important. I would leave the service of my congressional representative by January and would end up just a few blocks away from Capitol Hill as an intern for the Children’s Defense Fund. I actually really loved that internship and thought that the work that they did was really important.
As a grown woman, I do my best for garner an air of understanding, a passion for peace, a respect for all others. Tolerance is a hard thing to practice consistently, but I really do try. Even when people who I know and sometimes love hold very prejudiced views, the only thing I can do is speak truth when asked (or called or needed or compelled), lead by example, and by the change I want to see in the world. When the time comes, I’ll teach my children to do the same. And when they begin to learn about 9/11, I will teach them about the entirety of the context and the consequences. These are the things I can do to honor and remember.
I’m sitting in my living room, having traveled with my family up and down the east coast. We had a home visit from Ursa Major’s preschool teacher today and I’ve got preschool stuff to do tomorrow night and Friday morning. There is house drama. There is so much stuff to talk about. I hope to get to it all on Friday. Today just isn’t today. 12 years of life experience informs me that today is not a day to think about the micro. Today has nothing to do with me. It is both sad and frightening to watch a humanitarian crisis and debate about military action right alongside observance of this somber day. Who are we as a people and as a world today?
I hope that you’ll do something kind today. One little act of kindness. Even if it is simply holding the door open for the person behind you, or giving a sincere “hello” and smile to the person who is serving you coffee/lunch/dinner today. We cannot prevent all of the evil that happens in the world. We can’t reverse it after it happens. I am not even sure that we can fully counter-balance it. We can and should, however, try. Every single little act counts.