Like most Americans, I remember the exact moment I heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11. I was a junior at Kingsway Regional High School in New Jersey and, ironically, in the middle of my American Government class when our teacher informed us of the first terrorist attack.
Instead of having our usual class, we sat glued to the TV as details slowly unfolded. I watched in stunned silence as the first tower collapsed, then the second. Despite being about two hours outside of Manhattan, some classmates’ parents worked in the city, and their panic was palpable as they tried to get in contact with their families in vain due to jammed phone lines.
Then came the news of another hijacked plane crashing into the Pentagon in D.C. and then another crashing down in Pennsylvania before school was officially canceled for the day. As tragedy rained down all around us, I remember thinking the clear, blue sky outside looked deceptively peaceful in comparison to the terrible events it hosted that day.
I can only imagine what it was like being in New York City on that fateful day, but seeing the heroism, compassion and strength that residents displayed during the tragedy were inspiring and touching. In the days and weeks post 9/11, it was clear that the city wouldn’t be defeated by Al Qaeda’s and Osama bin Laden’s attacks. While the city was dealt a terrible blow, NYC prevailed.
Ten years later I moved to New York City, and while I’m not sure I can call myself an official New Yorker yet, I do know that the energy and spirit of the people here are unmatched. As the 13-year anniversary of 9/11 approached, I asked people what they were concerned about and received mixed answers. Some planned to avoid mass public transit hubs like Grand Central as a precautionary measure, while others took a business-as-usual approach.
I personally choose not to be afraid. While terrorism is clearly alive and well today as we see chilling footage of the ISIS beheadings and the destruction Hamas has caused in Gaza, New York City is not a place for the fearful. The city favors the bold, the strong, the steadfast and those who refuse to be intimidated. You can always find a reason to be fearful, but being hopeful is a better way to live your life. No one’s time here is ever guaranteed, but you can choose to make the most of the present.
Today, I woke up grateful — grateful to spend another day in this magical city I now call home, surrounded by exceptional people who inspire me to be my best and work to my fullest potential. I’ll take time to remember the nearly 3,000 men and women who lost their lives 13 years ago and vow to live each day as boldly and fearlessly as I possibly can in their honor.