The 20th anniversary of September 11th passed this last weekend and being a native New Yorker my whole life, I shouldn’t have to tell you the many feelings and mixed emotions surrounding that.

I was in eighth-grade music class when another teacher knocked on the door to inform our teacher that the Twin Towers were just hit by two planes. Our teacher, looking at a classroom full of 12 and 13-year-olds, decided she would tell us the truth. At the moment, we didn’t comprehend what had happened. The moment was way bigger than us.

What seemed like minutes later, dozens of parents were showing up at the school to pick up their kids. It was all pretty frantic. Adults were crying. Kids were getting scared, and some of the parents worked in Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center was.

I overheard someone say, “be careful, people are blowing lights out there!” To my 12-year-old brain, I thought that meant people were blowing up traffic lights. I spent the whole car ride back home with my parents thinking bombs were going to drop on the car.

We took my best friend Joe home with us because his mom taught in the school. His father was at work, and all the bridges were closed. He didn’t return home for two days. It was tough to get in contact with people.

This was before the time of high-speed Internet, social media, and even camera phones. Most people used landline phones. The phone lines were jammed up because of all the calls to 9-1-1 and people trying to find their loved ones. Cell phones weren’t as powerful and also suffering from poor service and a flood of calls. We even depended on the Towers for local TV. The antennae on top powered some of the local channels.

It was absolute pure chaos. In Staten Island, the little sister of NYC (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten), many people here are blue-collar workers. The island is home to hundreds of firemen, police officers, EMTs, nurses, etc. Most of these men and women rushed to the World Trade Center to save lives. Many did not make it back, and many lost their lives years later due to complications.

I spent most of that day at my church with some of my childhood friends handing out flyers in the neighborhood telling people the church was open for prayer and support. Most people were grateful. We were kids being tasked to try and bring comfort to adults on arguably one of the worst days of our lives.

Justin Sarachik

Looking back, it only seems fitting that I was in music class when the world stopped. On the worst day, I was already growing a passion for what I’d be doing for the rest of my life. In fact, my friend Joe and I would be in a band together. The other friends we were with are super talented musicians as well.

Amongst the anguish of that fateful day, we were of course reliant on faith but also our passion for music. Music is an eternal escape for many, for both listeners and creators. It was mine from 2002 to 2007 when I played the drums and again for the next decade when I rapped and sang, and then became a music journalist.

On that day 20 years ago, something else happened. The band P.O.D. (Payable on Death) released one of the biggest rock records in the last two decades with Satellite. The timing was extremely unfortunate for them, but the album was still an incredible success. Hit songs like “Alive,” “Youth of a Nation,” and “Boom,” would flood rock stations, music channels, and movie placements.

The band quickly became one of my escapes from ground zero, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a sea of uncertainty. The ripping guitar of Marcos, the steady thumping on the bass by Traa, Wuv’s insane drum patterns that I emulated, the ferocious frontman Sonny who could croon you to sleep and then wake you up with a guttural scream that ended in the smoothest of hip-hop flows.

P.O.D.

P.O.D. was the edgy “Christian rock/rap” band that your church grandma warned you about and that your parents said you couldn’t listen to (some things never change). Christian bookstores banned the artwork of their previous album Fundamental Elements of Southtown and warned of these “tattooed wolves.”

Well, what P.O.D. was actually doing was reaching millions of people with music that infused faith and reality. Sonny was outspoken about his faith but also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in subjects tackled in the songs. They toured with some of the biggest bands in the world. They were on MTV Cribs, Punk’d, and a slew of other places. And not once did they ever switch up on anyone.

I was doing P.O.D. covers in my first band and getting in trouble for being too loud in my basement. Years later when interviewing Sonny, I got to tell him that story, and he had a laugh. We’ve spoken maybe five times, most of which happened when I was a young journalist trying not to fangirl and doing my own version of rap/rock in my own band.

Last year, we spoke again when I interviewed him for the single “Rage” he did with Thomas Iannucci. It was good to speak to him from the perspective of age and having more of a better grasp of my craft. He mentioned that the plan was for P.O.D. to do a 20-year-anniversary tour for Satellite with their NYC date falling on September 11th. Due to scheduling, it didn’t happen, but they got there on the 14th and I was there too.

I brought my lifelong best friend Joe with me who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. We reunited, ate dinner, and spent some time talking about September 11th and all the time that’s passed. We survived that uncertainty to now be adults and bring children into the world of even more craziness.

The impact wasn’t lost on us at all. We’ve both suffered loss during that time but have also witnessed miracles and have rejoiced in pivotal moments. Now we’d get to step back in time and reconnect over our first love, music, and one of our favorite bands from when we were young teens.

For a moment again, we were kids, and P.O.D. was yet again being tasked to try and bring comfort to us during one of the hardest periods of our lives. If you looked around the room, most people were our age and older. You know they felt that too.

P.O.D.

Hearing the album live had all the magic it did the first time I heard it on CD. The band lost none of its performance luster throughout these years. Yyou could tell this show, in particular, meant a lot to them.

I never did become that famous rockstar I aspired to be. The book on being a famous music journalist is still being written, but the one thing I know for sure is that I’m a survivor. Looking back at September 11th 20 years later, I’m thankful for my life and for my part in giving life to my children. The world is a scary scary place, but for most all over the world, we’ll always have music as an escape.

Thank you P.O.D., and thank you Sonny for the tickets. And artists, you never know how much you matter to someone. Do not take that for granted.