We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001.

Me? I was in Mr. Jolicoeur's Psychology class during my junior year at Salem High School. We had all split up into groups working on an activity, with a kid named Jon, who was more or less the class clown, came back inside the classroom after leaving for a few minutes and said something that none of us really paid attention to.

"A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

The entire classroom looked at him, rolled their eyes, and then went back to work. Because that's just what Jon did -- either said something funny to get a laugh or said something completely out of the blue to figure out who would be gullible enough to believe him. He also said it so nonchalantly that it didn't seem like an actual event.

Walking through the library after class though, the TV was on and the picture was of one of the towers with smoke billowing from the top. We all know what happened from there.


Ironically, it was the first day of my internship at a local newspaper, The Salem Observer. Tuesdays were deadline days so it was crazy already -- but add a terrorist attack involving planes that took off 30 minutes away in Boston and crashed into multiple buildings across the country -- it turned into utter chaos.

As the day went on and the news came out about who was behind it and what happened, I started becoming a little worried. I was already hearing about backlash toward citizens both in New England and beyond of Middle Eastern descent and instantly thought of my family. My dad's side of the family is from Beirut, Lebanon, and came to America in the 70s. I'm half Lebanese, even though every complexion ever of me reeks of French Canadian.

But people who knew me knew my cultural background. Would I catch backlash, too? Would I have to worry about one of my family members having their head bashed against the counter at a coffee shop, reminiscent of an incident I had heard about later in the day in reaction to the attacks?

Thankfully, none of that was anything I had to worry about. Also thankfully, the few people in New York City that I knew were safe and sound. Because isn't that what we all did -- worried about anyone we knew in any of the areas that were hit by the planes or anyone taking a flight that day? Thankfully, my family and I seemed to make it through relatively unscathed...almost.

Other than feeling all of the emotions about the situation in general -- anger, heartbreak, confusion -- emotions got turned up when we found out one of my Uncle's best friend's had lost his brother, who was on one of the American Airlines flights that hit the Twin Towers. I knew I was upset for him. I knew I was shocked that I knew someone that was directly affected. But I didn't know what to say to him -- "I'm sorry" just didn't seem anywhere near enough.

So, for the last 19 September 11ths, I've sent him the same message every single year -- "Hey buddy. Love you a little extra today."

September 11, 2001 was quite possibly the worst day of a lot of our lives. Whether personally affected or not, it left its mark. But do you know what else did? September 12, 2001. September 13, 2001. And the days that followed. We may not remember those dates exactly like we do 9/11, but the unity and pride in our country and our flag that we all exhibited in the days following the attack -- that honestly may have been the last time that everything that divided us didn't matter and was cast aside, and there was nothing but unity. And patience. And love.

And considering where we're at 20 years later, approaching September 11, 2021 -- maybe we need to start remembering the days that followed more and get back to that. Because we couldn't be further from that unity, and it's a bit heartbreaking to see.

But as far as 9/11 goes, make no mistake. We will ALWAYS REMEMBER. And we will NEVER FORGET.

Where Were You On 9/11?

New Englanders share their stories and memories from September 11, 2001

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