On the eve of the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, I find myself in a place of tension. I want to write and process what changed that day, what these last ten years have done, where I find myself now, the emotions and thoughts I have about this country and its citizens. But I fear falling into the wide pools of meaningless, false cliches or dry, unfeeling cynicism. So I will attempt to walk the tightrope in the middle.
We all have our stories. My grandparents remember when JFK was shot. My parents remember the Challenger’s explosion. They can picture the very spot they were standing in as the colors grew more vibrant before dimming, an entire country changed in a moment.
And I have mine, 14 years old, first period of eighth grade. My history teacher – but mostly a wrestling coach – met another teacher at the door of the classroom a few minutes past the bell, swore loudly, and wheeled in the first television he could find. We didn’t know what was happening then, only that people were walking through a city I had only dreamed about, covered in the dust of building and people, eyes wide and gaping in broken faces.
Everyone was an American then. It was easy to love American, to revert back to the patriotism our country had fallen away from in the disillusionment of the 90s. We were one, unified. We gathered around New York and Washington D.C., crying and raising our candles high.
In 2006, my family visited the Pentagon. It’s easy to forget that a plane flew into the Pentagon that same September day. There is a memorial wing, with photos and flowers. I looked at our uniformed guide, stiff-backed, leading us around with hawk-like eyes, and I knew that he had known people who died that day in that building.
Ten years isn’t a long time. Wounds can still be incredibly fresh. And at the same time, there are small humans, thinking and rational humans, who were not alive then. Even high schoolers now have very little memories of that day. I read an article about how teachers are now teaching the attacks as history instead of reality.
Time marches on. And we mark anniversaries. Soon it will not be ten years, but twenty, then thirty, and then it will be ancient history, a page in the history book that most history teachers don’t get to because they run out of time before summer vacation.
But what is there to say? What is there to do? We were attacked. We lost people. We were angry. We went to war. We were misled? We lost more people. And so it goes. And so it goes.
A decade later, it’s easy to be cynical. To focus on the fact that the truth is not so cut and dry, that we were perhaps lied to so that we would support military action. It’s easy to see the negatives of this country: the blatant overindulgence, the loud bombastic American way, the small-minded ethnocentrism, the wastefulness of resources. My generation has raised this type of cynicism – especially in humor – to an art form.
But so easily my generation forgets the beauty of this country. The variety of landforms and people, languages and cultures. The art that is produced. The kindness of people who care. For every closed-minded bigot, there is a person seeking conversation and understanding. For every angry war-hungry individual, there is another who wants peace and contentment.
The bottom line is that I am so thankful that I am allowed to be a strong woman. I can work at a job. I can live by myself. I can enjoy art and culture. And most importantly, I can pray aloud to a God without fearing for my life. I know I have these things because of brave people who gave their lives to their beliefs, and I am in their debt.
And I will pray for those who have none of these things, whose lives are marked each day by terrorists and relegated to minor news stories. Because we were the victims then, but they are the victims now. We lost mothers and sons then, but they are losing them now. It’s not over for them; they remember the anniversaries daily without television specials or tribute concerts. They do the washing, fix the meals, try to get by without starving to death or breaking down with grief.
On this September 11th, I will remember that day that I cannot forget. And in doing so, I will be grateful for what I have. Be hopeful for what I may have. And pray that all will someday have what is denied them.
I will remember. And be grateful.