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Megan Hempel, Daily Sun Assistant Editor

Since Sept. 11, 2001, we're often asked to recall where we were and what we were doing the day America changed.

I was 13 – the same age my son will be after the country marks the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – had just been dropped off at the private school my sister and I were attending at the time.

The morning started like any other. We met other students at the local coffee shop to carpool the 20 miles to school. When we arrived, we joined the morning assembly where we were met with an overwhelming feeling of heaviness and sorrow that we couldn't explain.

Our headmaster, a military veteran, and instructors had tears in their eyes, leading us to assume that something tragic had befallen a member of our small student body or the local community.

They gave us limited information. If I remember correctly, they told us only that there had been a bombing in New York City. Classes were canceled for the day and our families were called to pick us up. It was 8:30 a.m., Texas time.

An hour earlier, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed. By the time we made it back home, we learned the full scope of the attacks.

In our youth, we failed to grasp the severity of the situation, shrugging it off as an isolated incident being blown out of proportion by our school administrators. Even now, as my son studies the attacks each year in school, I don't think the new generation fully understands the impact the events of that day had on America and the American way of life.

Interestingly, the driver of our carpool that day was born and raised in a country where acts of terror were more regular occurrences. Because it was something they dealt with so often, they were more affected by the call to turn around and pick us up than by what was unfolding on the other side of the country.

It wasn't until years later that the reality of their reaction, or lack of reaction, hit me. I understood the effects those attacks had on us as Americans and how fortunate I was, up to that point, not to have grown up knowing that kind of terror.

The attacks made a lasting impression on all of us who watched them unfold. We watched as first responders and civilians came together to help each other. We watched the country try to make sense of a senseless act. We watched as America became more afraid and alert.

More than that though, we watched as people forgot their differences and just helped each other. Videos and photographs of people covered in blood and ash ignoring the chaos and just trying to help were the most powerful images I saw that day.

While fear and destructive stereotypes soon took over and threats and retaliation followed, in that moment everyone was equal. Their grey, ash-covered faces made them all the same. Those brave people rejected their anger and hatred and showed only love and compassion. We should never forget that.

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