At the risk of sounding insensitive I’m just going to say it: I never felt like 9/11 changed my life.
I was, of course, wrong. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 did change my life in many ways, most of which are too big for me to even realize, but at the time I was in sixth grade and watching those stories on the news that day just didn’t really hit me. I didn’t know any of the victims and I’d never been to any of the places that were attacked.
It has taken years of looking back and years of growing up for me to understand. What has sped up the process for me has been hearing the stories of those who were actually there.
This year when I heard the keynote speaker for the Healing Field in Tempe would be a first responder who was there that day, I jumped at the opportunity to hear another personal story.
Joe Lutrario was a New York police officer whose squad had been specially trained to respond to possible terrorist attacks. On that morning when he heard the news he was on the scene in minutes. A woman came running to him and his partner and screamed for their help to save the kids from the day care at the World Trade Center. They grabbed each of the kids and carried them quickly to boats that took them to New Jersey.
His job wasn’t over then. Once all the kids were out, Lutrario went back into the South Tower and ran for the stairs. As he was about to make contact with the first person, he said it felt like an earthquake and before he knew it he was thrown off his feet and buried.
“When I came to I was in a small, dark area,” Lutrario said. “There wasn’t any air to breathe. I just kind of said to myself ‘I guess they’ll find me in the morning.’ Then I thought of my children. I thought, ‘Who is going to raise my children?’”
Eventually, Lutrario was rescued and as soon as he was patched up, he went back to work and spent weeks sleeping on the streets and doing all he could to find any survivors.
When I hear these stories I try to imagine the scene. As I listened to Lutrario’s story on Tuesday night, surrounded by flags representing all those lives lost, my daughter was watching me from inside her stroller. She kept talking and smiling, trying to get my attention. It made me think of those parents whose children were saved by Lutrario and his partner. Did any of them make it out? Were they more scared for their own safety or getting their kids out of the building?
Lutrario ended his message by encouraging those who were listening to never, ever give up but I took away a different message. When I look back on 9/11 my heart aches for those who lost a loved one. I can’t imagine kissing my husband goodbye in the morning and never seeing him again, or being a parent trapped in that building and having to think, “Who will raise my kids?”
When I look back on 9/11 the message I take is that we all need to be a little more kind and this year I was reminded that I need to live each day grateful for what I have. I’m grateful for my family, my freedoms, and my life, and I’m grateful for those men and women who dedicate their life to protecting those things.
I once thought 9/11 had not affected me. Now, I know better and I cannot forget.
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