But not on this day. On this day, I am American down to my core. Much in the way that Rhett Butler was called to war in the eleventh hour by his own Southern blood, I can't help but feel the pull towards my country on this day and be glad and proud of what I have as well as mourn those we have lost. Memorial Day, Veterans Day... none of those holidays mean anything to me at all. But 9/11 is a day that is burned into my head for a lifetime, and I will never forget. I don't care about the conspiracy theories, the supposed 'truth' movement, or any of that crap. I care about the unified horror we felt as a nation on that day, and how the country came together as one.
It was at the end of second period at Cranbrook, my high school, during my Junior year. I was carelessly ambling with some of my friends towards the bus to transport me from the Cranbrook campus to the Kingswood campus for painting class (yes, my high school had campuses...). One of my friends came trotting up to the group of us and said, "A plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York!" We laughed - what kind of an idiot was so dumb that they miscalculated their flight path and hit a tower? - and I had an image in my head of a tiny biplane bumping into a building. Still laughing, we boarded the bus and headed off to class.
My easel stood in the far corner of the painting studio next to the old, metal-wrought windows. That day we were working on a still life - a chair and table with flowers set up on desks in the middle of the painting studio, our easels encircling the setup. The door to the classroom - right in the middle of the main wall, at the end of a long hallway - was open, and just as class was beginning, one of the other teachers came it. It was Mama J - Mrs. Jackson, whom we would lovingly sing the then very popular Outkast song to when we'd forget our homework (I'm sorry Ms. Jackson, oooo! I am for real!) - and she wore a grave, harried look on her face. She announced to us that there had been a terrorist attack on the United States, and two planes had struck both the World Trade Center towers in New York City. We stood and stared at her in shock.
The next few hours were a confusing blur. I passed by the library and saw through the glass doors a few images on the TV that was playing - namely the second tower collapsing. We heard reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon, of another plane going down in Pennsylvania. Planes all over the country were being grounded - we had no idea how big the attack was going to be, how many planes were involved, or what other structures would be targets. My father was on a plane that day, and my mother worked in one of the tallest buildings in Detroit. If they were targeting large, important buildings in major cities, hers was a sure target. And where was my father? Flying on a doomed plane somewhere, soon to die? I couldn't get ahold of either one of them for a long while, and I was terrified. Later I found out that both my parents were safe - my father had actually been the next plane on the runway scheduled to takeoff, but right before they did, the pilot informed everyone that there had been a terrorist attack and that all planes were now grounded. It was a terrifying few hours.
I didn't have my license or a car yet at that point in my life, so a friend of mine drove me home - the school let us our early as there was no way we could possibly go on with our studies. I remember lying on my side on the living room floor, staring up at the television replaying video of the planes striking the towers over and over... and videos of people freefalling to their deaths, over and over. Something in me broke that day, and I had an emotional meltdown. That event sent me spiraling into depression, and I spent the next few years in a self-mutilating, suicidal vortex. Planes were rerouted on their flight paths into and out of Detroit Metro airport in the following weeks and months after the attack, and they came right over our school. I cringed and looked up in horror every time one flew over for months. Seeing videos of the timeline of events that happened, or videos of the people falling out of the towers, still to this day makes me cry.
In the immediate aftermath following the attacks, one thing stuck out at me as the most memorable: there were American flags everywhere. Every car an American flag sticker on it, every house had a flag flying. Every street corner, every lamppost... everywhere one could be hung, there was a flag. The entire nation rallied together strong and powerful in mourning, and we refused to be broken. We stood up together, and helped our neighbors and strangers alike. We were strong, we were unified, we were proud and we were free. And nothing could take that away from us.
The way the country had changed in the past 10 years is sad and grim. The economy is struggling, war has been raging for a decade, and racism and hatred are as strong as they ever were. But I choose to look beyond that. I choose to remember and honor those who were killed, and those who survived and had to begin again. I choose to reflect upon this day and think of ways I can help my fellow Americans, and other citizens of the world as well. And because I live in this country, I have the freedom and the right to choose. And for that, I am forever grateful.