Today is 9/11 Remembrance Day, and as an American, I know that sometimes people get tired of seeing all their friends on Facebook, blogs, etc. posting about where they were on that day and what it meant to them then – and what it means now. But I want to do this exercise because it’s important. In fact – I’d go so far as to say it’s vital to pause and reflect – and allow others to reflect – on the day that changed each one of us forever.
Giving away my (young) age here: I was in eighth grade in middle America. The TVs first went on in Social Studies class. I had a great teacher. Mr. Shikany. He was so smart and really had a way of explaining government, history, and everything related (I remember doing a project on the Enron scandal in that class and actually understanding it!). But as we watched the second plane crash into the South Tower, he was silent. We all were, but I remember thinking that I desperately wanted him to say something, to explain to us what was happening. He didn’t. Looking back, I think he was one of my best teachers; the smartest ones say nothing when there is nothing to say.
The rest of the day was a blur of news coverage, conspiracy theories, and trying to guess what would happen next. What I remember the most talk about was war, gas prices, and the oral acknowledgement that this meant an attack could happen anywhere.
War seemed implausible to me at the time – mostly because I had never really experienced it. The Gulf War ended when I was three years old. The America I knew was a peaceful America. Nobody messed with the America I knew. What I would later realize is that the America I knew collapsed with the Twin Towers. It would be a matter of short months before my friends’ brothers, sisters and relatives enlisted and shipped out to the Middle East. It would be a matter of very short years before people I knew personally did the same.
The real aftermath of the attacks was less scary than the one I had imagined, though possibly more bleak. But as history shows us time and again, life goes on – even in the wake of terrible events. For a time, were were incredibly united as Americans. Standing together, a force to be reckoned with. Years later, we would poke fun at the people who were still standing strong, mocking them with stereotypes who wear sleeveless plaid shirts, trucker hats, and say words like “Merica.” In the early ‘oughts, we were grateful for extreme airport security because we didn’t want even a tiny chance of another attack like the one on September 11. Now, we’re wary of the pat-downs and nostalgic for a time when we could meet loved ones at their gates. Our nation now grapples with some troubling problems, like how to treat Islamic Americans and how to strike a perfect balance between privacy and security.
Because I was not quite an official teenager when the attacks happened, today I am in the unique position of having lived just about half of my life pre-9/11 and half of it post-9/11. I didn’t know enough about foreign affairs, the Middle East, or even our own government 11 years ago to grasp the gravity of what was happening. But fear, death and tragedy I did understand. I am never going to be able to forget the pit in my stomach watching the news coverage of the WTC collapsing and realizing what that tiny falling black dot on the screen was – that was a person. People were jumping from the towers because there was no hope of survival, and jumping was a way of ending it on their terms.
Sometimes, that’s the way I feel about this whole thing.
Because you can’t really win a war on terror. As long as there are people, there will be someone willing to do anything to strike fear in others’ hearts. Please excuse my pop culture reference here, but in the words of Alfred Pennyworth, “…Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” And so we decided that we wanted to take matters into our own hands – end them on our own terms, if you will.
I want to say that I support our soldiers 100%. But.
I have to disclose that when I reflect on 9/11 and what it means for us now, I feel a bit like my middle school self – still a little frightened and a lot confused. My country’s future seems dark, distant and impossible to grasp. I’m desperate for the Mr. Shikanys of the world to say something – anything – to clear it up. But mostly what’s being said in American politics today muddles the subject even more.
And, as always, the really smart ones aren’t saying anything. I think because there might not be anything to say.