People often write about how clear the sky was on September 11, 2001. Somehow immortalized despite the passage of 13 years, I know that fact to be true. There was not a cloud in sight to dapple a field of bright blue, and I’ll never forget that. I will never forget how the rumor mill spread like wildfire through a computer class of eight-year-olds. “Somebody blew up the Twin Towers,” one girl whispered to another.
It was the turning point for an entire generation of children. I will never forget how the smoke filled that blue sky as I walked back home down Park Avenue with my parents that morning, and how the sky wouldn’t clear for weeks after.
Most of all, I’ll never forget the state of mourning that my city was plunged into: flags hanging from every surface, funerals my parents attended for months on end, a hole in the skyline that sucked away a vibrant city’s liveliness. When we finally healed again, it was as if the threads of tragedy connected each of the eight million residents to one another.
I am never prouder to be a New Yorker than on September 11 each year. No matter how much time goes by, I am always transported back to third grade and that fateful, cool, and breezy morning. The first time I was ever absent from New York on 9/11—a Tuesday early in my freshman year here at Harvard—my heart filled with ache, and all I wanted to do was be home again. I am rarely an emotional person, but my eyes welled with tears to think of my family, just 200 miles away. The wounds will always be fresh, and two years later, it’s still tough to be in Cambridge on 9/11.
It’s often bothered me that Harvard does so little to remember and acknowledge September 11, but this is not the forum to shame the University. I wish there could be a more formal service for this great community, and that’s all I’ll say on that topic.
Instead, I implore the people around me to take some time today, the congressionally ordained Patriot Day, to give thanks and remember in your own way. No matter if you are in New York, Cambridge, or further afield, there’s always a way to be grateful. We spend many of our days, as Harvard students, being bogged down by meeting after meeting and bemoaning the various stresses in our lives; today is a day to consider something bigger than that.
If you’re reading this early in the day, come join me at Memorial Church at 8:45 a.m. for their morning service. Even if you can’t make it, observe a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the most pregnant pause of the year.
If you’re already not paying attention in class and reading this later on, consider saying a prayer for a lost soul, lighting a candle, and thanking whatever higher power you may believe in.
Don’t be bound by faith. If you eschew organized religion, there are plenty of ways to give back and pay tribute to the fallen thousands. Honor the day and yourself with service, helping those who are less fortunate than you. Take some time for quiet reflection, to stop and think, and to observe the wonderful life that you live.
Most of all, tell the ones around you that you love them and how much they mean to you, and consider just how lucky you are to be alive and free. Call your parents, call your best friend, hug your roommates. Hold them close, and realize that our time on earth is fleeting and far too short.
Today, we can all be New Yorkers—proud, strong, and never forgetting.
Cordelia F. Mendez '16, a Crimson sports chair, is a history concentrator in Cabot House.