Living in an industrialized, materialistic country, such as the United States, we sometimes forget what is truly important. Our society has the tendency to reinforce the belief that making big bucks, driving fancy cars, and owning all the toys, is the gateway to happiness.
As a child, I too, bought into this concept. How much, how big, how many?
We hold these beliefs until something comes along that demands that we put our life priorities back in order. Some how reshuffle the deck of life’s cards. Unfortunately, in this case, my priorities were reshuffled by a traumatic national tragedy.
I remember vividly, lying in my bed on the night of September 10th, 2001. I was nine, soon to be double digits at last. Not a teenager, but a ten-year-old girl. I could not get to sleep, as I thought about all of my birthday festivities for the following day.
Tomorrow was going to be a huge day. I could hardly contain my excitement. I had asked my mother for the gift of all gifts.
I so wanted the American Girl Doll, “Samantha,” and had an inkling I would be surprised with her. She had dark brown hair and hazel eyes, just like me, and she was the only thing I wanted in the whole wide world.
I woke up on 9/11 and everything in the world was perfect. I nearly left my pajamas in my blankets, jumping out of bed as fast as I did. I got dressed in my favorite outfit and never touched a stair on the way from my bedroom to the kitchen.
My day hit a speed bump when Mom greeted me with a big wet birthday kiss. I didn’t even wipe it off.
I wolfed down my breakfast and was sent out the door with remanants of powdered donut on the corner of my mouth and chocolate frosted cupcakes to share with my classmates. I knew the day would drag, since I could only think about the gift that was awaiting me after school.
I arrived at school and just knew that I would be flooded with birthday wishes. I wasn’t disappointed. I handed out cupcakes, deciding carefully who would get which one. My best friends and I sat at our table, giggling and telling stories, like all little girls do.
Suddenly, over the loud speaker came a long message. I didn’t understand, nor did any other student in the building.
The only word I got out of it was ‘terrorist.’ It echoed in my head. My teacher knelt down next to her desk with her head in her hands. She looked horrified. Twenty-six little faces stared up at her, innocent and naive.
“What about my cupcakes?” I remember thinking. “What about my birthday?”
September 11th no longer seemed like my birthday. The day past, but to be perfectly truthful, I feel like my memory stopped recording that day. Where once I remembered every intricate detail, I now only remember bits and pieces of the day.
At the end of our school day, we went into our walking lines like usual, but the hallways possessed an eerie silent lull.
I went home and called my friend. I asked her if she knew what was going on. That word ‘terrorist’ kept coming up. I had never heard the word and I still didn’t understand what it meant.
It was breaking news everywhere for hours. The fact that it was my birthday totally slipped my mind. And apparently the minds of the rest of the world too.
My mother got home and sat my sister and I down to tell us about the tragedy. She told us “terrorists” (“That word again”, I thought) “attacked two of our Country’s most storied landmarks”.
I remember her saying, “Our Country was never going to be the same”.
When she told me that these people had killed thousands of innocent Americans, I seemed to blank out. I was horrified. Up to this point in my life, I had only thought about my life and the lives of my friends and family within a ten mile radius of my home.
This event changed the way my thoughts would leave my brain.
My birthday was the furthest thing from my mind.
These people were murdered in cold blood, people just like me. People who left for school and work with dreams, and goals and futures.
Just like me.
A lump formed in my throat. I tried to swallow it, but it seemed to choke me.
Suddenly, “Samantha” was not the first thing on my mind.
Suddenly, I felt small and insignificant.
This tragedy caused me to shift my thoughts from me and only me to imagining all of the families who had lost someone. I was thinking of how lucky my family was. How lucky I was. I had never thought about the safety of our country before.
This kind of thing didn’t happen where we live. It only happens in other parts of the world.
My backyard? Not a war zone. My backyard was a playground.
I got Samantha that day, but her face looked different to me.
She didn’t smile the same way that she did before. She still had my brown hair and my hazel eyes, but she seemed to have lost the gleam in her eyes.
The night before my birthday I thought I knew every facial expression that Samantha had.
She always smiled. Now she seemed puzzled. Concerned.
She seemed to have lost her innocence.
Just like me.
I am 19 today and my birthday is still as special to me as it has ever been.
September 11th is still my birthday, but now the day doesn’t belong to just me, like it used to.
Now my birthday belongs to the rest of the world, too. JC
Note from Todd Civin
There are some days, that sports need to take a back seat to life.
Today is one of those days.
I suspect you’ll remember it far longer than you’d remember another story about a Sox loss, a contract squabble or another Brett Favre story anyhow.
Those are stories we often try to forget. The following is one I hope we never do.
I like to think that in everything they produce a little drop of me helped to produce it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, unless it’s up to no good. Then it doesn’t fall far from her Mom’s tree..
Jules wrote this as her essay to get into UMass Boston two years ago. She not only succeeded at getting in, but captured the heart of many with the following essay. Happy Birthday, dear Julia…I couldn’t have said it better myself.