It’s two days before the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and by now there are countless ways to see private memories made public. On our site alone, Washington Post 9/11 projects offer ways for you to discover where we were, who we are and where we’re going.
The rain was relentless and the sky was the color of slate, but we still were met by readers who’d heard about our gathering on Twitter or by friendly faces sneaking peeks at our table at our go-to Caribou Coffee shop. Some just wanted to share quick memories. Others stayed for hours.
Inspired by the memory walls of New York and by the blog PostSecret, we asked readers to decorate postcards and share their memories of Sept. 11, 2001. You can view the gallery of reader-submitted postcards here. But first, read some of the stories that stuck with us:
• The Iraq veteran, the Army nurse: “You understand as you get older.” On Sept. 11, Helen Terrero was a nurse on active duty. She was scrubbed in for surgery in an Oklahoma operating room when a colleague came in and told her that a plane had hit one of the towers.
“I just remember everybody in the room thinking at the time that there was no way there was an accident.”
Terrero said there was no way of knowing how much her way of life would change, and how she’d notice American culture change around the attacks. Four years after Sept. 11, Terrero deployed to Iraq for a year.
“You don’t understand the magnitude,” Terrero said of that day in September. “It was way more beyond that than, like, ‘oh, this happened.’”
• The International Relations student: “It gave me direction.” Irene Colthurst, was a freshman at a Catholic high school in San Diego. She and her classmates sat in her homeroom, watching the news. They all saw the second plane hit on television. Her teachers, all nuns dressed in habits, rushed the students outdoors. There, they grabbed hands in a giant circle and began to pray the rosary.
As the years went on, Colthurst moved to Washington to study international relations, focusing on Muslim relations. She learned Arabic and traveled to Cairo, where in 2007, she said she could see the seeds of the revolution. She hopes to get back to the Middle East soon with work. “The genesis of [my career] can all go back to 9/11,” she said.
• The college freshman: “I have to show people ‘Usama’ doesn’t mean terrorism.” Usama Awan, 19, traveled to D.C. on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA to help with a “Muslims for Life” blood drive on Capitol Hill.
Awan’s father is a New Jersey doctor who helped some of the victims after the planes hit the towers. Awan was 8 at the time; he didn’t know who Osama bin Laden was. And now, though he’s proud of his religion, Awan still feels as if he has to stand up for Islam. He admits that superficial traits, including the sound of his first name, will raise eyebrows.
“My name, obviously, outside of school creates some stuff.”
Awan hopes to be a doctor like his dad, but he’s nervous to eventually enter the job market. He doesn’t know how each prospective employer will feel about hiring a Muslim.
“I have to show people ‘Usama’ doesn’t mean terrorism,” Awan said. “I’m trying to have a life.”
Thanks to all who came out to meet us in person, tell us their story or to simply say hello. If you’re not in D.C. but still want to contribute, don’t fret. You can submit an illustration for our virtual memory photo gallery by printing out and mailing this card to the address listed below. Or send us a photo on Facebook or Twitter using #911 changes.