In an instant, everything changed. Now 15 years removed, a generation of Americans is transported back to that fateful day as the memories flood back.
As our nation reflects on the tragic events of September 11, 2001, countless thousands from coast-to-coast and around the world will band together in remembrance of those that lost their lives. But in the city of New York, the far-reaching effects remain ever-present in the hearts and minds of many.
For New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara, it doesn’t take much to recollect his emotions from what started out just like any other school day.
“I was 10 years old and I remember sitting in class in fifth grade,” he told NewYorkRedBulls.com. “Slowly but surely, we all got called down to the office because our parents were picking us up. At the time, we were thrilled, but we had no idea what was going on. We just thought we were getting a day out of school.”
That sense of youthful joy and innocence quickly faded as the events of the day continued to unfold. From there, it didn’t take long for a young Meara to realize something was terribly amiss.
“I remember getting down to the office and seeing my mom with tears in her eyes, and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach,” he said. “I knew something was wrong.”
The panic and fear was very real for Meara and his family as Ryan’s father, Lieutenant Jack Meara, headed to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks. A firefighter from Engine 46 in the Bronx, Jack was forced into action on his day off as first responders from far and wide were called upon and rushed to the scene.
The rest of the day turned into a nightmare come to life. In an increasingly frightening scenario that was near impossible to process, questions lingered as to where and what could be next. All the while, Ryan was forced to wait in agony for his father’s return.
“Being a young kid, it was scary not seeing my dad for a couple of days,” he continued. “The fact that it’s been 15 years blows my mind. I can still feel the fear that I felt that day as a 10-year-old.”
Fortunately for Meara, his greatest fears went unrealized, but others were not so lucky. As the days and weeks passed by, searches were called off, and the bitterly sad reality began to sink in: thousands of innocent people were never coming home.
“There were a handful of people from my neighborhood that passed away. And with my dad and uncle being firemen, they knew tons of guys that died that day,” said Meara.
“As a New Yorker, it really hits close to home. A lot of us look at our lives as pre-9/11 and post-9/11. It’s something you’ll never, ever forget.”
A day that now lives in infamy does indeed serve as a dividing point between two seemingly different eras, but it didn’t take long for the healing to start in a post-9/11 world.
As many continued to pick up the pieces, life trudged on. Neighbors banded together in grief and solidarity as a nation looked for a return to normalcy after the unprecedented attacks on domestic soil. And in the United States, few things have come to categorize the American way quite like the game of baseball.
Sure, the outcome of a sporting event should have been awfully inconsequential in light of the terrible events that had just transpired. But what followed was a remarkable moment of elation that defied logic and reason, and gave a country in mourning a reason to cheer again.
“Especially after such a tragedy like that, sports were a huge way that the city and the country could look towards more positive times,” Meara said. “I’m a big Mets fan and I remember when Mike Piazza hit that home run ten days after 9/11. It uplifted the city; we really needed that.”
The electricity emanating from Shea Stadium that night could be felt around the country, all thanks to one swing of the bat. And while the emotions that are intrinsically linked with fans and their team often elude description and reason, one swing of the bat served a greater purpose that required no explanation.
For one night, an entire nation got behind New York.
“Sports can play a huge role in the healing process after a big tragedy,” Meara stated. “Being from New York, putting on the Red Bulls jersey everyday is something I don’t take lightly.”
A decade and a half later, a familiar refrain on social media serves as a constant reminder to “Never Forget” the lives lost on September 11, 2001. But for Meara, there is more work that needs to be done. To truly stand in remembrance, action must be taken.
“What we have to remember as a city and as a country, amongst all the first responders and people that were lost that day, there are people still dying from cancer that was a result from being exposed to Ground Zero,” he said. “These people need the right healthcare and attention. Even 15, 20 years down the line, it’s still a huge issue.”
As the Red Bulls take the field this Sunday against D.C. United, the club will do their part to honor the heroes of 9/11 at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls will be donating both warm-up shirts and game jerseys to the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund, while two First Responders from both the attacks at the Pentagon and The World Trade Center will take part in a special Ceremonial Coin Toss. Red Bull Arena will also host the annual Battle of the Finest – a soccer match featuring NYPD FC and US Soccer Heroes immediately following the MLS match.
Even as a brand new shining beacon of American ingenuity and perseverance stands tall in downtown Manhattan, the healing continues. And as two longtime foes battle it out on the pitch on Sunday afternoon, it seems only fitting that a matchup between New York and D.C. should bring together the two communities most affected.
“We have to make sure we don’t forget about those people,” Meara stated. “As a city and as a country, we have to keep remembering.”