Ten years ago, my world suddenly became bigger.
I was in the eighth grade at a prep school that maxed out at middle school. Finding and getting into the right high school, and keeping up my grades so I wouldn’t get kicked out of the National Junior Honor Society, were my priorities as of Sept. 10, 2001.
The next day, Sept. 11, was yearbook picture day. As eighth grade students — the graduating class, the oldest students in the school — we could wear casual formalwear for our yearbook photos, in lieu of the everyday uniforms. So that morning, I chose a purple dress that I’d worn a few months ago for a friend’s Bar Mitzvah.
The lights were off in our first-period science class as we worked on some activity about genetics. Suddenly, my homeroom teacher walked into the room and, without a word to our science teacher, turned on the TV. The first tower was on fire. News commentators weren’t sure whether a plane really had flown right into the building. We didn’t know what was happening, but we knew it was important.
Then we had our photos taken. We returned to our second-period English class just in time to watch the second plane hit.
In the days and weeks to come, my world expanded. By Sept. 10, 2001, I’d already known for three years that I wanted to be a journalist, but I’d never known much more than that. After Sept. 11, I began watching more news broadcasts, reading more news magazines, poring over the sections of the newspaper that weren’t the comics, consuming online news. The world became a bigger place, much more complex than I’d previously imagined. I started questioning whether I really wanted to be a journalist, whether I had the fortitude to produce stories in any situation, whether I could even comprehend the world enough to be able to do the job.
Looking back, it seems silly that a 13-year-old girl would be so sheltered and scared and uncertain, especially since her life was never in immediate danger of harm or upheaval. But that’s what happened after Sept. 11.
I taped an American flag on my bedroom window.
Our yearbook photos had to be retaken. We never saw the proofs from that original session. I was mid-blink in my photo from the second session.
One Sunday that October, I was reading a book in bed when my mother came in to tell me we invaded Afghanistan.
I asked one of my best friends at school if she was of Iranian or Iraqi descent. (As if it mattered.)
My rabbi’s sermons gradually became more political. I started questioning what he was saying, then began tuning him out, then stopped going to that synagogue three years later.
Today, the world continues to grow, from my perspective, yet shrink. Everything became confusing, messy, incomprehensible, on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, 10 years after I suddenly doubted myself and everything that was happening around me, I’ve made it. I’m a journalist. I’ve gradually grown to understand and to put pieces together, but the world will never make complete sense to me.
But that’s okay. I think, in this post-9/11 age, that’s the norm. For decades, a common question was, “Where were you when JFK died?” Now, it’s “Where were you when 9/11 happened?”
I was wearing a purple dress, in my eighth grade science class, and completely oblivious to the world outside.