Kirsten Pollok Essay

A New Undertaking

September 11, 2001: The date that no one should forget. For many years, September 11 did not mean much to me. It was a date when planes crashed into buildings. But it was so much more than that. So often, people take shelter behind staggering numbers that no one can truly retain. Yet this does not speak to the humanity, the compassion within all of us. Without the humanity and the ability to place oneself in the shoes of those who were affected, understanding can be achieved. Whether it was those within the four commercial airliners, the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or the emergency response teams, all of their stories must be told. They should never be reduced to numbers.

When I was young, it had been softened for the sake of little children; it sounded more like a mistake. I did not learn about terrorism or the horrible pain and fear that occurred on that day and still exists in memory of that event. In middle school, it had been explained. People had died and I knew it was horrible, but it still did not mean much to me. After all, I have no conscious memory of this horrible day. How could I understand the fear? The despair? Surely it must be something you have to live through to understand, yet in Seventh grade I came to understand. While participating in a local honor band, one of the pieces we played was called “Flight of Valor,” by James Swearingen. In preparation for this performance, I practiced and learned it, but I didn’t know about the meaning behind it. It was just a piece of music, like that date was just a piece of history.

However, it is so much more than that. Upon arriving for the first rehearsal, the Director of our band explained the true meaning and history behind this piece. It was about the less well known sacrifice of 40 civilians to save thousands of lives. These people, they went on a plane, happy and feeling secure. Then terror struck as their plane was hijacked. Scared and frantic, they communicated with loved ones, and learned that their plane was part of a larger plot to kill thousands of people (History). I can only imagine that horror is an insufficient description of how they felt: the fear, the feeling that their end was coming. None of them thought they would die that day, none of them thought they would be trapped within an insidious plot to harm their home. No, the word “horror” is not nearly enough to surmise this horrible event.

Yet these brave people talked amongst themselves and on their phones; they learned of the outside world, and they voted and made a decision as one (History). These people, in the midst of overwhelming fear, united for a cause greater than themselves. When they chose to storm the cockpit, they chose to die on their terms. They would not be another number among thousands of numbers. There would only be a count of 40 people; the few that died so that many could live.

We played the music in the rehearsal, and I was touched but I still did not understand. It was not until the actual performance that I came to understand. This event was so personal to her, our director, that she was actually moved to tears as she explained the significance of the piece to the audience. Inexplicably, I suddenly felt as if I was within her shoes and the music seemed to become completely different and very personal. The music began: It was warm, patriotic, happy, and carefree. Just like how those people felt in the hours before this tragedy. Painfully and sudden, it changed to frantic rhythms set in minor chords to convey the despair and fear of the civilians on the hijacked plane as they became aware of hijacking and danger. I felt my own heart beat madly in sync with the tempo. Frantically, these people dashed about until they made for the cockpit. The tempo and volume of the dynamics spiraled rapidly out of control until a single breathless moment of silence was abruptly shattered with the crash of the cymbal, and everyone understood: The plane had crashed; those brave people had lost in order to win. Their lives were lost for a greater cause and this should never be forgotten.

As the years continue to pass, it remains crucial to remember September 11 and that more than a tragedy occurred that day. It was a day that we discovered America could be shaken, but not destroyed by fear. Yet a new challenge has presented itself to those that remember and remain to teach it to the later generations. It is more than facts; those numbers were once people with lives and families that have never been the same since. How to explain to children, to young adults who did not experience this calamity, the full impact September 11 has left upon us as a nation? It is truly an immense task, and is no light undertaking. There is a difference between telling someone the significance, and showing them the significance of September 11th. Instead of telling people that nearly 3,000 people died during this attack, tell them stories of the emotions and actions of Americans everywhere (History). The victims, the survivors, the heroes, and the grief stricken friends and families of the deceased can tell more than any statistic.

 

Works Cited

History.com Staff. “Flight 93.” History. Accessed 12 Sept. 2016.