Today is my father’s birthday. In 2001, my father’s birthday fell on the first day of school. I remember this because I was so concerned about what to wear to make my sixth-grade debut that I almost forgot to wish him a happy birthday.
By the second day of school, I had troubles much more grave than my wardrobe. I was already rubbing shoulders with one of my teachers, who had scolded me for not having the correct book. And at 10 in the morning, the principal of the middle school had cancelled our scheduled morning free time and called us all into the assembly hall instead for a meeting. Boring.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I learned never to complain about school assemblies or meetings or teachers. Within minutes of filing into the assembly hall, squeamishly protesting, I learned that on the other end of Manhattan nothing was boring. Everything was in chaos.
One by one, our parents came to pick us up from school. I walked with my family back home through Central Park, watching people covered in soot and ash and debris coming from the opposite direction. Together, my family went to the grocery store and bought powdered milk and extra water. No one knew what we were preparing for because no one truly knew what had happened.
At the age of 11, I was too young to understand and yet too old to ignore. I watched the television for hours on end, as no news came in. I watched the smoke outside my window. I looked down at my then-two-month-old brother and thought to myself how lucky he would be to never remember that day.
I thought that day that I would never be the same, that the world would never be the same. School was cancelled on Wednesday, and I didn’t care. Never again would I laugh with my friends in the assembly hall. Never again would I fly on an airplane.
I’ve been on countless flights since then. I’ve performed on the stage of the assembly hall. I’ve watched my now-nine-year-old brother learn about Sept. 11, as I once learned about the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And yet, I was right. Things were never the same. My brother has never known a world where he didn’t have to take off his shoes to fly on an airplane. He’s never known a lower Manhattan graced by two massive towers. He doesn’t blink at memorial pictures and plaques adorning the outsides of fire stations throughout the city.
I still shudder when I walk by those plaques. I still shudder when I pass by Ground Zero. I still shudder when I sit on my couch at home, looking out the window, where on that day I watched the smoke.
And so, to be honest, I am sick of debates about mosques in Lower Manhattan. As I clutch my prayer book during Rosh Hashana services, the thought of someone burning another religion’s holiest book, the Quran, absolutely disgusts me. All of the negotiating, the finger-pointing, the side-talking only detracts from the thousands of people that we need to honor tomorrow. It takes the focus off the firefighters on those plaques and off the innocent people that never got the chance to walk back uptown, covered in soot.
And so today, let us remember to wish my father a happy birthday. And tomorrow, let us remember to just remember.
Zara Kessler is a junior in Ezra Stiles College and an editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine.