I hate when something so momentous occurs that you can’t wrap your mind around it. Like when someone close to you passes away and you’re unable to convince yourself that you’ll never see their face again… touch their skin, smell their hair. You can’t put it into words; it’s just impossible to swallow reality.
September 11, 2001 did that for a lot of people.
I was nine-years-old when it happened. I’ll never forget that day. Not only because of the events that took place in lower Manhattan, but because it was the day I took home my baritone.
Yes. My baritone.
You see, every fourth grader at my elementary school gets to pick an instrument to play for band class. And I chose the baritone.I have no idea why I chose the largest instrument available. It was legitimately the same size as me.
But the size of my baritone is the memory that intertwines most with my experience on 9/11.
After successfully trudging my newly rented instrument onto the bus after school, I got home to find my mom waiting for me outside. I was happy to see her – because I’m a Mama’s boy – but surprised because she never got off work before I got home from school.
As I stumbled off the bus, dragging my baritone along, I headed towards my mom and we talked about my day at school, what I learned and, of course, my baritone.Then she mentioned somewhere in the span of the two minute walk to our apartment that there was an accident in the city (I’m from New Jersey and we refer to New York City as the ‘city’).
When we got home, I realized what my mom had been talking about. I’m almost positive we had CNN on because that’s my dad’s favorite channel. I saw the footage of the planes crashing into the towers dozens of times in the hour my eyes were glued to the television.
Even at the age of nine, I was affected in a way that I couldn’t properly put into words. I remember one thought that wouldn’t stop running through my nine-year old head: how could someone do something so cruel?
I was too young to process the thousands of lives lost. They were just numbers on a screen to me. The only thing I could truly connect with was the pictures and videos on television. I didn’t understand the speeches from Mayor Giuliani and President Bush. All I knew was that I was witnessing something that was causing unimaginable suffering – and no one knew why.
In the weeks after 9/11, I began to notice something that became a recurring theme on the endless media reports surrounding the attacks. There was strong focus on Muslims – both Muslims who lived overseas and ones with American citizenship.
It was the reports about Muslim Americans that interested me the most. My nine-year-old brain gathered that they were being treated with resentment because the suspected perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were also Muslim.
Once I gathered the latter in my head, it was like a switch flipped. I was furious at what I was learning.For as long as I can remember, issues dealing with race have meant a great deal to me. I realized at an early age that one’s ethnicity means nothing in the grand spectrum of things.
I hated the fact that Muslims who called the U.S. home were being treated with such callousness because of the actions of individuals who’s only connection to them was a religion. A religion that nearly two billion people share.
One of my friends from school was named Mohammed. Was I supposed to think differently of him because he shared a name with one of the suspects in the 9/11 attacks? My nine-year old mind couldn’t grasp that mindset.
It’s a good thing I couldn’t grasp the thought, though. How could I empathize with a frame of mind crafted by people who, unlike me, were attempting to comprehend the complete tragedy of that September day.They were trying to make sense of the thousands of lives lost and the families whose lives were changed forever. My nine-year old mind couldn’t handle that.
Everyone else was doing something to help the people directly affected by 9/11. I guess I was trying to help the people indirectly affected.
I was just a nine-year old kid.