The picture above is a panoramic shot from the year 1999. My mom took me to New York City for my high school graduation present. We drove into the city from New Jersey. We were blasting the prologue from West Side Story on the CD player and snapping our fingers along. We were unable to contain our excitement when that beautiful skyline came into view. On this trip we were the stereotypical tourist in every way. We looked up at the buildings in geeky awe. We walked down Broadway, struggling with a huge NYC map, hoping that the slew of people bombarding the sidewalks didn’t think us too much of an inconvenience. We were in Times Square when Total Request Live was still a big hit on MTV, and I remember squealing with girlish delight when Carson Daly waved at us. We were probably some of the last people who were allowed into the Statue of Liberty’s crown. Who could believe that within two years, those spectacular towers would be erased from the skyline? Who would have thought that this picture would become a piece of history? A picture that symbolizes lives lost to terrorism as well as overwhelming patriotism that erupted from such a dark day.

On September 11, 2001, my mother was driving me to the college campus. We heard over the radio that a plane had struck one of the towers. What a horrible accident, we were thinking. I just so happened to have a portable CD player with me that day, because of a class presentation. I rushed into the music building and quickly plugged it into the wall, telling everyone I saw what had happened. Right when I turned it on, the second plane had hit. At that moment, we knew it wasn’t just an accident. An unforgettable silence fell over the cluster of people I had gathered. Nobody knew what to say. My first class of the day was creative writing. The professor came in looking shocked and pale. The events had definitely changed her lesson plans. She sat with her head in her hands and told us, “Just write.” And we did. There were a select few in the class who had not yet heard what had happened. After a quick explanation, I remember the whole 45-minute class was mostly silent, except for occasional scribbling; some furiously scritch-scratching and others with slow and purposeful strokes. The rest of the day is hazy. The only other thing I can distinctly remember is the candlelight vigil that we held on campus. We sang America the Beautiful, but it was excruciating trying to get through the song without crying a river of tears.

As I have mentioned before, I was a member of the marching band and the choir that year. Both groups had planned patriotic shows before the tragedy occurred. The tone in our daily rehearsals shifted, and every single performance came with new empathy and emotional resonance. Playing the National Anthem on a flute through tears is not an easy task, nor is singing Battle Hymn of the Republic while the candle in your hand is quivering. It was an emotional year. A year that taught us that hate is very real and that life is precious.

My mother and I visited New York City again in 2003 after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree to see Bernadette Peters in Gypsy. The atmosphere that year was staggeringly different. The excitement was there, but it was accompanied with a mixture of fear, heartbreak, and sentiment. Now that I am a mom of two children, thinking about September 11th makes me want to squeeze them as tight as I can for as long as I can. I fear for the day that my son and daughter lose their innocence and realize the rampant evil that exists in this world. I remember the fear that gripped my soul that day. I remember thinking, “What’s next? Will there be more attacks?” The mama bear in me doesn’t want to expose my kiddos to this kind of fear. Sadly, the world we live in doesn’t allow innocence to thrive for very long. Fear is inevitable, but what matters is what we do with that fear. Out of fear can come the greatest victories in our life, if we denounce it and trust in God our Father. I keep the skyline picture on my refrigerator as a reminder to always honor the fallen and to thank God for this free country that we live in.

Do not let “We will never forget” be forgotten.

“Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. Everyone will live in peace and prosperity…”

Micah 4:3

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 14:7

“Finally brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

2 Corinthians 13:11

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