I hear the voices of my classmates behind me, ecstatic about the cake sitting before them. The faint sound of a radio echoes in the background. My teacher plasters a smile on her face. Are you one? Are you two? Are you three?!

I close my eyes. I wish to go to Centre Island with Mommy! I exhale. The lights go out, and it is quiet.

The radio continues to murmur in the background…terrorist…plane crash…twin towers…

This is my view of 9/11.

911 Photo

Were you expecting a plane crash? An image of a falling building? A person soaring through the sky, after having jumped from the 42nd floor? No. For me, it was a birthday party.

I was born on September 11, 1998. My third birthday fell on the day the Twin Towers were struck by aircrafts. 9/11 was just one of those days. A day where anyone old enough to understand remembers exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. I was sipping coffee while watching the TV. I was running into my office building when my co-worker came to me in tears with the news.

To my regret, I barely remember it. While others in New York were praying for the lives of their mothers, I was singing. Happy birthday to me.

When fathers were calling their children to hear their voices one last time, I looked up at my mom to smile for a photo. Say cheese!

While others wept, I beamed. This was my special day.

My teachers listened to news over the crackling radio. Tears shone in their eyes while they forced a smile and pretended that everything was okay for the classroom full of children that sat before them.

It is only when I consider the circumstances fourteen years later, that I realize how bittersweet the photograph is. On one hand, I was innocent and blissfully unaware of the events happening around me. It’s almost endearing: young child, sweet smile, simple happiness. On the other hand, it shows the remarkable discrepancy between outward appearance, and the reality of a given situation. Things are never as they seem.

My three-year-old self thought that everyone experienced the world in the same way. If I was happy, then my friend must also be happy. When I cried, the world would stand with me in sorrow, feeling my pain.

I was very, very wrong.

Everyone has a different view of the same situation. They go through life with unique conversations, relationships, and encounters. While events happen objectively, the individual experience is subjective. Even if you are standing right next to me, what I see is not what you will see. It’s both a blessing and a curse. To have our personalities and perceptions shape the world makes it all the more special for each person. It brings an individual uniqueness. Our experiences become what define us. However, it also blinds us.

This simple birthday picture shows that our picture of the world is never truly complete. As a child, I simply did not know any better; my oblivion was not due to apathy or indifference. It was out of a lack of awareness.

It is important to consider all the elements that add up to make the full story. Hear the voices of the unspoken, the stories of the silenced. On the large scale, 9/11 was devastating because three thousand lives were snuffed in hate. What is often lost in the noise of numbers and figures, however, are the individual stories of the unknown. These stories capture the emotion and life lessons that can only be gathered through experience.

Everyone’s life can be emulated by the innocent child absorbed in her own bubble of reality. The outside noise of the radio is unregistered, not understood by our naïve minds. Or maybe it’s simply too much to handle. After all, it is easier to remain apathetic because apathy allows us to avoid being vulnerable to the pains of the world. We are all children, celebrating while towers fall around us.

The candles are blown out, and it is dark.