How Old Were You 15 Years Ago?

[The following was written a few days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  My “home away from home” was the 72nd floor of 1 World Trade Center – the first tower struck and the last one to fall. I spent 8 years working in that building and when I was leaving work on September 10th at about 3pm, the lobby was silent, as would be the case before the evening rush home. I looked around in an awe-admiring way at the giant columns and the terrazzo flooring – actually appreciating the complex. Never realizing it would be my last good look in person – nor the last time I would see certain faces of people alive, with whom I walked those hallways. Every anniversary seems to strip away a scab covering the hurt of that day and this one was no different. However, there seemed to be a bit of salt thrown on the opened wound this time when talk came of unrelated protests, during and for the National Anthem, at NFL football games, starting on this particular anniversary. The only way for me to vent, to protest the protesters that I felt were disrespecting this particularly solemn day, was to write my feelings down. Not everyone will agree with me. I understand this fact. But I felt like I was fighting not for just my personal feelings, but for those who died and for those I know who still live with the pain of that day. To gain respect for one cause, should not demean or disrespect the wounds of others or the history of a particular day. Oddly, the NFL chose to fine athletes who wore shoes that honored the depth of respect for this day, but ignored the athletes who did not pay respect for the flag that represents the country giving them the freedom to perform and to protest. I simply needed to vent, this was the result.]

If You Are Under 40 – You Might Not “Get It”….

Now let me preface by saying that this might apply to about 75% of people under 40. Depending on where you live and what you have experienced in life, may determine the percentage you fall into.

How old were you 15 years ago? If you are 25 today then you were just 10 back then, if 40 then you were 25 and if you are 35 then you were 20. Just out of high school, maybe attending college, and pretty certain of yourself in many ways and likely consumed in your “me” world. Most people who were 25 and under in 2001 may not have even been independently living on their own at that point – still relying on parents to help support them. Your biggest concern was probably more the latest musician, band, concert, sporting event or party than anything happening in the world. Again – this isn’t all of you – but a good portion.

The internet was not as prevalent back then – heck, most of us were still using dial-up internet service and AOL was the way to go. MySpace would not exist until 2003, FaceBook until 2004 and Twitter until 2006. Commercial smartphones were still conceptual and cameras in a phone were not yet widely available. A basic cellphone was the norm and people still used pagers for text messages. To get news you had to read a paper or watch TV – there was no APP for that. And you still had to listen to your portable music from a CD player or even cassette tape as an iPod was not available until October of 2001. The irony of all those facts is that it likely saved lives on 9/11/01 since no one stopped to take selfies or make a “post”.

A few of the most controversial celebrities and sports figures of today, some who consider themselves relevant and influential were hardly influential back then:

Kanye West was 24                                     Kim Kardashian was 20

Beyonce was 20                                           Mark Zuckerburg was 17

Lena Dunham was 15                                 Justin Bieber was 7

Colin Kaepernick was 13                            Rhianna was 13

Miley Cyrus was 8                                       Tom Brady was 24

NFL Player Average Age is UNDER 30 – meaning most of today’s players were 15 or under

NBA Player Average Age is UNDER 30 – meaning most of today’s players were 15 or under

MLB Player Average Age is UNDER 30 – meaning most of today’s players were 15 or under

To say the world was not as “connected” back then to the happenings worldwide would be an understatement. Unless you watched the news, maybe cable news, on a regular basis, you would have hardly noticed what was happening outside of your little world. And since we might remember what we were like in our teens and 20’s, it would be easy to see how being connected to world events would not have been a major concern.

For those of us who lived in the New York City Tri-State area, or in the Washington DC area or the immediate area of Shanksville Pennsylvania, maybe even Boston Massachusetts where 2 planes took off from, the events of 9/11/01 could not be missed. For MONTHS and YEARS afterward. Long after it was barely a blip on other news channels across the country.

The attacks on 9/11/01 were against AMERICA. America was targeted. They were not attacks on people who were Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Women, Men, Rich or Poor and did not discriminate age or sexual preference. The coordinated attacks were on ALL people who were enjoying Freedom under the flag of the United States of America.

For those who were directly affected, through family members and friends, or seeing it every day on the news – you grew up with a special respect for what happened on that day. You understand that HUNDREDS of Public Servants, Emergency Workers, as well as thousands of average citizens, were killed that day, many trying to save lives – Heroes of every walk of life. You might also understand that many thousands more are fighting, or have lost battles to diseases contracted from working in and around Ground Zero for months and years afterward during recovery and rebuilding efforts. You likely had also witnessed the effects on those who escaped the buildings that day with levels of PTSD many had and some are still battling, 15 years removed. Anyone who directly worried about someone they knew that day, family, friend, co-worker – whether they lived or died – likely has not forgotten what that day meant to this world and what they felt inside.

Some, who were even mere children at the time, decided to dedicate their lives to Public Service in honor of what happened that day. Sadly some of those very “children” have also paid the ultimate sacrifice for their decision. Killed in Military Service or in the line of duty as Police, Firefighters, EMTs and other forms of Public Servant. They lived each day knowing that it could be their last, but “serving” others was important to them and to the remembrance of all who went before. They “got it”, they understood. Just like Patrick Tillman, who at the age of 25 gave up his career in the NFL in June of 2002 to join the Army and die in service in 2004.

With the internet there actually is no excuse for the younger generations today to not know, remember and respect events of the past, especially 9/11. People of my age, 50, were taught in school of wars, conflicts, genocide and sacrifices, but we were also taught by our parents and grandparents – many of whom served in wars, and some of whom were even victims of the holocaust. Remembrances were shared as stories or as old faded pictures in photo albums or folded up and kept in wallets and purses. The “greatest generation” didn’t have the convenience of looking up something online. They held respect, for what was, in their hearts and in those old paper keepsakes.

Today it seems many schools don’t even want to teach about the events of 9/11 because it means they have to explain terrorism and extreme ideology. It might “offend” someone – the most overused word today. And for a generation that seems to need “safe space” everywhere so they don’t get offended by hearing or seeing something, it is very sad. The world today has taught us that there really is no “safe space”. Not an office, or nightclub, restaurant, school, mall, airport, plane, train, church, temple, mosque, beach, promenade or street or even movie theater. As a result, if we choose not to live in fear and go about each day of our life in normal fashion, then we, individually, should learn and teach not to be offended by every little thing and choose not to live offended by everything.

The flag, the one we saw raised on top of the rubble on 9/11, just like in that unforgettable picture at Iwo Jima in 1945, represents this country – AMERICA. It is still a country that people long to visit and to live in. It is a country that has fought against oppression all over the world. Oppression on a level, in this day and age, that could never be truly understood by anyone born and raised within its borders. That does not mean that people who live in America do not know forms of hardship or even discrimination. Many struggle to raise themselves above the poverty and circumstances into which they might be born. But America still abounds with opportunity for anyone willing to strive for a better life and live within the law. Sadly, younger generations who may have it better sometimes have a lack of respect and appreciation for where they are now because of the struggles their parents and others overcame to give them the lives they live.

It’s easy to be outspoken about certain types of things when you haven’t lived long enough to truly comprehend the depth of all history and actions and the sacrifices of those who have come before. As we age, beyond our twenties, have children of our own and grown-up problems, we begin to live our lives with the understanding of lessons learned from those who have lived and died, or at least we should. The possibilities of what could happen, because we have seen and learned what has happened to others. Tragedies should have changed all of us, but as younger generations grow many don’t have that understanding to temper their actions because the tragedy did not occur close enough to their heart or within their true period of “grown-up perception” and feelings. Those who are able to understand beyond their years, the ones with “old souls”, are rare in numbers, but they are the ones who “get it”.

9/11 was certainly not the only tragedy to affect America within its borders in the last 15 years. There have been extreme storms, landslides, historic floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, heat waves and blizzards, and then there have been mass shootings and bombings – affecting every corner and heartland of the country. All of these have taken the lives of many people, and have created hardships for many thousands more. But people from every corner of this country, and around the world, supported the communities affected in these “United States” without discrimination. Unless you have been directly affected by these tragedies, again, you probably just don’t get it.

Not too long ago I read a post by a “twenty-something” stating much of the older generation cares about wealth and success while the younger generation cares about their soul, the planet and humanity. Easy to say for someone who has not yet lived any length of time completely independent and still relies on financial support from their parents for many important things. The narrow-mindedness is that they can’t see how that older generation was young once and has experienced events, tragedies and hardships that molded them. How that older generation realized they had to support a family, and provide “safe space” for them. How that older generation may have “sacrificed” to provide for them, perhaps even sacrificing their soul and dreams to provide nourishment, security and entertainment.

In just 15 years many have forgotten what this country felt like in the days after 9/11 – and many cannot even comprehend it because they simply were not old enough to have truly felt its depth. Many have forgotten, or never realized, that flag draped remains of emergency workers, public servants, were carried out of the “pit”, Ground Zero, for MONTHS after the events of 9/11. These were not “soldiers” killed in battle, but to all of us who witnessed this every day on the news, it was no different in our sight. They represented the finest of our country and they did not go into those buildings with any discrimination in their hearts toward the people they would work to save. To them EVERYONE was an EQUAL and EVERY LIFE had value.

I must admit, the lack of respect is not only reserved for the young. I have known people older than myself, living in a different part of the country, who told me a few years later that it was old news already and I should move on. They could not comprehend that my office was no longer the same, the people I worked with were different, physically and mentally, because of 9/11, and my work involved issues with the rebuilding process of the site, but they felt I should “move on”. Yes, physically I have moved on. But out of respect for what took place that day, I WILL NEVER FORGET and I WILL NEVER DISRESPECT the Flag that draped those caskets, was displayed at the sites of tragedy, and went into battle in support of America as a whole. And I will ALWAYS SUPPORT those Public Servants, who have their own personal issues and flaws and families to get home to, but who put their life on the line each and every day and who will, without a doubt, run toward others, without discrimination, to help and protect them in times of need.

9/11 is a time to remember the sacrifice of ALL for this country. It is called PATRIOT DAY and meant to be observed as the National Day of Service and Remembrance. A Patriot is one who defends their country against all enemies, ALL of its people and with all of its flaws. If you are not old enough to truly remember that day, that feeling, to “get it”, then at least have the respect to watch an entire video of the events; the planes hitting the buildings, the people who chose to fall to their deaths instead of burning alive in the heat of flames, the buildings falling, the rescue workers and citizens running for their lives, covered in dust to such a point where you could not tell their race or ethnicity. And watch the videos of rescue workers on the “pile”, including dogs who worked tirelessly, hoping for any sign of life. And watch a video of flag draped remains being escorted out of the pile while all stood at attention to pay their respects. Maybe after all that, you might “get it”. You might get what that flag actually represents. I Pledge Allegiance To The Flag, of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.


written by:  Phyllis Esnes  9/9/16



at-attention attacks-trade-center

flag-wtc groundzeroua7ground_zero_flag_1545598_fullwidth groundzeromuseum  wtc-flag-nypd wtc-flag-papd wtc-flag remains-flagwtc-hat 9-11-memorial-11-horizontal-large-gallery

010915-N-3995K-022 New York, N.Y. (Sept. 15, 2001) -- A rescue dog is transported out of the debris of the World Trade Center. The twin towers of the center were destroyed in a Sept. 11 terrorist attack. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres. (RELEASED)
New York, N.Y. (Sept. 15, 2001) — A rescue dog is transported out of the debris of the World Trade Center. The twin towers of the center were destroyed in a Sept. 11 terrorist attack. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres. (RELEASED)


WTC Freedom Tower

Being Thankful For main page.




2 thoughts on “How Old Were You 15 Years Ago?

  1. Emily (Gillespie) Lombardi

    Thank you Phyllis. This was beautifully written and I agree with everything you wrote. I worked on Water Street back then and there are things I saw, heard, and felt that I will never truly be able to “move on” from.


  2. Kathy Leslie Whelan

    Thank you Phyllis Esnes. Your article was right on and I can feel your emotions as I read it. It bought me to tears. Love you for it …and I will never forget 9/11.
    Kathy Leslie Whelan

    Liked by 1 person

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