There is a family photo I still have a hard time looking at. It was a trip my father took my brothers and I on to New York City, my first trip there if I remember correctly. We did all the touristy things: a Broadway show, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building.

And there we are in the photo. Standing along a rail, two towers in the background. Two towers that are no longer there. Two towers that fell, collapsed in a pile of fire and ash and rubble.

I can’t remember the year of the trip. It was more than five years before Sept. 11, 2001, but less than 10 years.

It still seems strange to me, jarring really, to see that former New York City skyline with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center still standing tall. But there it is in that photo.

The last I saw of the Twin Towers was at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. I walked around the display featuring the top of the massive antenna from the North Tower. On the walls hung copies of newspaper fronts covering 9/11.

And then there’s the question: Where were you? Where were you when it happened? Where were you when you heard about it? When the first plane hit, then the second? Where were you when you heard about the Pentagon being hit as well and United Airlines Flight 93 crashing in a field in Pennsylvania?

Where were you when the rug got ripped out from under us all?

I was 23 years old, fresh out of college. I was driving on U.S. Route 50. I heard it on the radio and didn’t believe it. Was it some strange joke? Was this real? Was this happening now?

I went home. I turned on the news and watched much of it unfold.

• American Airlines Flight 11 hits the North Tower — 8:46 a.m.

• United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the South Tower — 9:03 a.m.

• American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon — 9:37 a.m.

• The South Tower falls — 9:59 a.m.

• United Airlines Flight 93 crashes near Shanksville, Pa. — 10:03 a.m.

• The North Tower collapses — 10:28 a.m.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, more in the resulting war on terror and still the numbers climb as cancer claims people exposed to the dust and debris at Ground Zero where the Twin Towers had stood.

We vowed to never forget. I haven’t. I won’t. I have trouble watching the footage to this day.

Time marches on though. Eighteen years have passed. First-time voters — those who turned 18 between elections — who head to the polls in 2020 will not have been alive when 9/11 occurred.

And the tragedies have piled up in the intervening years. There have been the deadly weather events like Hurricane Katrina, tornadoes that left towns devastated and wild fires that incinerated thousands and thousands of acres. There are the mass shootings. There have been riots. And there has been the ongoing war on terror.

But one moment has defined the tenor of my entire American adulthood. Here I am at 41 years old and there’s a picture of me as a teenager, standing, smiling with my two brothers and my father. And in the background are two buildings that once symbolized New York City, and in so many ways still do in their absence.

And I look at that photo and I don’t see us, my family. It doesn’t stir up memories of our trip, our first time in the Big Apple. It reminds me of the day that forever colored my view of the world — the day we all vowed to never forget. Eighteen years later, I still remember all too clearly.

— Daniel Divilio


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