Ten years ago, everything changed. It’s amazing to think that a decade ago, it never crossed my mind that the United States could be touched. We were invincible… unconquerable. I suppose, to an extent, you could say we still are. We survived. Perhaps other nations would not have. And yet, we are not the same. We lost something that day, something we have yet to regain. And though we may have pulled together, united by that day, we have lost that, too.
I used to listen to my mom say that she remembered exactly where she was and what she was doing when she heard about JFK’s assassination. 9/11 is that day for my generation. I remember it vividly. I was riding the bus to school. 98..5 KLUC’s Morning Zoo was playing on the radio when they begin to talk about what they were seeing on the news. They kept saying that it must be a prank. But no, there was no joke. Eventually, during the ride from my bus stop to my high school, we all realized that it was for real. It was a devastating realization.
In first period, the school administration made an announcement that we were not to discuss the events of the morning. The teachers were told not to bring it up, all the tv’s were shut off, and the students were asked to focus on class. How could they do such a thing? They later justified that they felt it would be better to calm the chaos, but really, they cheated us all out of something critical to our emotional and mental processing of what was occurring. We needed to talk about it. We needed to lean on each other, get it all out, and be reassured by our peers and our teachers that things would be okay. But no, we were forbidden from doing so. Mr. Spigelmeyer, my World History teacher, refused. He agreed that we would not discuss it. But he had us spend a few minutes writing in our class journals. He told us that we would want to have that someday… that we would want to remember how we felt before we were tainted by the opinions of others and the barrage of news feeds and commentary that were to come. I don’t remember where that journal ended up, but he was right. I wish I had that now. But I do remember that when we said the Pledge of Allegiance that day, I actually thought about the words that I was saying for the first time, and I cried. How could I help it? When all seemed lost, the security blanket that we were all so used to had been ripped away and destroyed, I thought about what it really meant to be One Nation, indivisible. I suppose that flood of emotion, and seeing the same thing wash over many of my classmates, brought me hope. We would not allow this attack to destroy us. We were indivisible, we were still strong.
I remember an aide from the counselor’s office brought a note to my Chemistry class. I was being called to the office. I was told to collect my things, I was going home. My first thought was that perhaps something was even more wrong… Maybe someone we knew had been hurt or was missing. I got in my mom’s car and we went home. My brother was pulled from school, too. We sat and watched the news and I was so overwhelmed. My mom explained that we didn’t know how extensive the plans of attack were, and it was important not to be anywhere where many people were gathered. Maybe, she said, schools could be a target. My brother’s classmate had a father who worked for the FBI. His wife had called my mom and said he had called her and told her to get their daughter. If he was afraid, a man who had always seemed so collected and who was on the inside… maybe he knew something we didn’t. Maybe he had heard something… yes, we should definitely go home if he was afraid.
I look back on it now. When a story makes big news these days, I get tired of it. I don’t want to watch endless hours of flooding or earthquakes or Michael Jackson’s death. I can’t stand to sit through the same information being played and replayed over and over. It’s different with 9/11. I watched the news and nothing else for weeks. EVERYTHING was about 9/11. Even when they began playing normal television shows again, it was about 9/11. I remember watching the first Yankee game after the attack and being so overwhelmed with how something that had been so normal was now monumental. I never loved the Yankees except for that day. Even now, ten years later, when so many people are starting to say “it’s time to get over it…” I still can’t. I can still watch the news stories, replaying the same footage that I have seen for ten years. I don’t know that it will ever fade for me. Of course, it has faded a bit. But still, a decade later, I still feel drawn to it. I still cry. I still get goosebumps when they tell stories of the heroism of firefighters, police officers, and everyday people who risked their own lives to try to save others.
Things are so different now. We’re no longer untouchable, and we feel it every day. We may not realize it or think about it consciously. But… we know. Every time we go to an airport, we’re reminded that we cannot expect safety without caution. If someone had asked me ten years and one day ago if I thought anyone would ever attack American soil, I would have told you that you were crazy. Now, the answer is different. And that changes things. It makes us more skeptical, more cautious, more aware. At least for the young people in my generation, we were forced into some harsh realizations pretty quickly, and I think that changed us as a whole. We had grown up being number one. The Cold War hadn’t affected us the way it had affected our parents, and we had never felt insecure about the power of our nation. And with the events of one day, that was all taken from us. It wasn’t an easy transition.
9/11/2001 was one of the most important days of my life. And yet, after a decade, there is a new generation emerging. They were born in a time when either they were far too young to remember that day or, for some of them, it had already passed. I wonder about them. What is it like not to have those memories? I wonder what they think and feel when they watch the footage now that I remember watching live. I wonder how their parents handle “9/11” with them. When do they tell them? Should they let them stay in the dark until they’re older? My generation didn’t have that option… we were thrown into the deep end. I remember, in 2006, I was giving a tour of the U.S. Capitol to a family with a young daughter. She was perhaps 7 or 8 years old. I was explaining the ways that the security had changed for the building since 9/11, and she asked me “what’s 9/11?” I wasn’t sure what to say. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would ever have to explain it to anyone… It was such a monumental event in my life and a unifying factor between me and anyone I had ever met before, that I never considered that there could be a human alive who didn’t know what it meant when I said “9/11.” I suppose that generation, the ones after 9/11, is steadily growing. And it makes me wonder what things will be like when more people grow up who didn’t have that experience.
I wonder, too, about those who lost more directly than I. The ones who lost a member of their family, a close friend, or both. I consider the possibility that their loss is actually different than any of the losses I have felt in my life. I have lost family members, and I know what that grief was like. But I wonder about those who lost someone in 9/11. How do you move on from that? How do you continue to soldier on when you are reminded so consistently of what you lost? Every year, you are reminded by a replaying of everything that caused the grief you suffered. And today, I wonder about the guilt they feel from surviving and living their lives without the ones they lost. I listened to the wives who read names from the long list of the dead, speaking about how much they miss their husbands. Do you suppose they remarried? How could you? And yet, any other woman who lost a husband would not necessarily be expected to never remarry. I wonder if the losses they feel are a greater burden than some others have felt. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I do wonder.
Anyway, I felt that today would be an appropriate time to let some of my feelings out. Like Mr. Spiegelmeyer said ten years ago, someday I may want to be reminded of how the attacks affected me and how I felt. A decade has passed, and I still feel so strongly attached to that day. And someday, I may want to be reminded of that, too.