September 11, 2001 has many meanings for Ethan Goldwasser. It was his tenth birthday. It was also the day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, where his father worked on the 89th floor of the North Tower. This, in his own words, is his story:
Birthdays can be pretty formulaic, especially at the age of eleven. Parties, cake, presents, maybe an overpriced magician, or elaborate goodie bags. In 2002, I remember my birthday had a different feel. My mom tells the story, that on my birthday that year I was not sure if I should have a party or if anyone would want to celebrate. For an eleven year old these are very important and complex questions.
It was not that I did not like parties, was not social, or hated cake, only that a year earlier on my tenth birthday, the world had changed in a monumental way. This change brought on by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 affected the entire country but my family directly. On that day, as I sat in my fifth grade classroom in Montclair, NJ waiting for recess and cupcakes from my mom, my dad was fifteen miles east across the Hudson River fighting for his life.
My dad was an insurance executive with MetLife working in their office on the 89th floor of One World Trade Center, the North Tower. He and the majority of his coworkers fled the burning building to safety after the South Tower had already fallen and minutes before the North Tower collapsed.
Among so much luck that day, my dad was able to get a ferry out of lower Manhattan and home to New Jersey in time to pick me up from school before I knew any of this had happened.
My dad's story is truly amazing and has been told countless times in books, speeches, and movies ' but my story, that of an eleven year old kid afraid to have a birthday party is its rarely told counterpart.
Ten years later, when Beth first asked me to write this piece, I thought about what feelings I had in the years after 9/11 and a couple lessons I had learned.
Never be afraid to celebrate a birthday. 9/11 was a horrible moment in our nation's history but it was also one of our most unifying. Extraordinary acts of kindness were performed time and again for weeks, months, and even years after the attack. On a personal level I really had everything to celebrate. My dad had defied the odds and survived, was there to celebrate my birthday and every birthday since. He emerged from the towers hungry to rebuild his business and push forward.
There is no such thing as a perfect day. A lot of people remember 9/11 for all the horror, hate, and fear that emerged from lower Manhattan. But across the country good things happened as well. Little League teams won games, researchers pushed closer to cures for deadly diseases, and students did well on tests. To define 9/11 solely by the horrible things that happened is to do all the good things injustice.
Next year will be my 21st birthday. Ten years after I was afraid to have an eleventh birthday party, I am confident celebration will no longer be a problem. The events of 9/11 will always be a major part of history and will define that day, my birthday forever. For me however it is one birthday out of many that have come before and will come after.