Ten Years Gone

11 Sep

Ten years ago, I was fourteen and in the ninth grade in Tennessee. I was in the hallways walking from first period to second when I heard people talking about theTwinTowerscoming down. I heard a rumor about a boy – one I’d gone to elementary school with who had a knack for getting into trouble – walking around the halls pointing at random people saying, “You’re going to die, you’re going to die, you’re going to die. . . “ Even then it didn’t mean much to me; I thought it was just a rude and insensitive thing for him to say to kids who didn’t understand what was going on. I knew he was saying those things as a result of what had just happened, but I didn’t make the connection in my mind. I didn’t understand the significance of the attack, and what it could possibly mean for my family, my friends, or my town. I didn’t understand why he said any of us would die because of it.

To be completely honest, I’d never heard of theTwinTowers. The thing I remember more than anything is that school pictures were the next day, and I had an appointment to have my hair cut that afternoon. I know that’s selfish, but I was fourteen. Hardly anyone isn’t self-centered at that age. But when you’ve never lived through anything like that, and you’re not right there to see it happening in front of your eyes, it somehow doesn’t seem real. Things that happened on TV or the news didn’t happen to me, to the people I knew. They were far away, outside my bubble.

Everything just seemed like it was happening on an alternate plane. Like the world outside didn’t have anything to do with me.New YorkandWashingtonseemed so far away, so far removed from me. I was just in high school, young and naïve, and it didn’t mean anything significant to me. I only started to comprehend it when I got home and my mom was watching coverage on TV. She was furious that we’d spent our entire day at school watching the events unfold on the news. I think more than anything she had wanted to be the one to tell my and my brother what had happened. I don’t even know how James found out about it – he was only 11, and I highly doubt they watched anything about the attack at school. I don’t know that having her tell me about it would have made much of a difference in how I felt about it. I vaguely remember our teachers talking about it while we were watching the news, and I somewhat remember us talking about it as a family that night. I sensed that my parents were upset and worried about what had happened. They had lived through things like the Kennedy assassination andVietnam, so they had a better sense of disaster and tragedy.

Of course I was sorry to hear about all the innocent people that died that day – any decent human being would, except maybe that dumbass kid in the hallway. But my perception of it was that it was miles away, that I was safe, that it didn’t involve me. I’d never been toNew Yorkat that point, but I’d been toWashingtononly the year before with my mom and my brother. We saw the Pentagon every day on our train rides into the city. At that point, I didn’t have much sense about the world around me. My world consisted of what I knew at home – the life that I lived every day. Now that I live in DC, my feelings have changed somewhat. I can never relive that day – not that I’d want to. But I know now that it was bigger than myself, than the people around me. It meant more than I even knew. I had no reason for healing after September 11.

Others did, though. So many were – and still are – affected by what happened that day. There are thousands of people who aren’t with us anymore because of the terrible actions of a few. I lost nothing, but so many lost everything. Since then, I think we’ve lived in a world of fear. Fear that it will happen again, fear that we cannot control the world around us, fear that we cannot safely go anywhere. The thing that makes me the saddest, though, is the misplaced anger we as a country have put onto people who are different. We forget that it wasn’t a huge army of people that brought the towers down. It’s just like that saying how a few can ruin it for everyone. We built up prejudices and direct hatred toward people not very different from ourselves. We forget that everyone is just people.

Traveling in a post-9/11 world has probably affected me the most. Unprecedented security measures and rising costs have taken some of the enjoyment out of it. Sometimes I think we’re overreacting, but I know what can happen if we aren’t careful. It’s a delicate balance between being cautious and being fearful. There’s a quote that says: “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.” Where is the line, the balance that makes us cautious and safe, but not too afraid to live? Although I have it easy compared to those specifically targeted at security checkpoints, I cannot help but think it is a huge inconvenience for everyone. The vast majority of us just want to get where we’re going without hassle. We do want to get there safely, though. I understand the cautiousness, though; no one wants to be blamed for being lax on the one person who managed to slip through the system and cause chaos.

So, ten years later, have things returned to normal? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there will ever be a semblance of “normal” anymore. Everything changed in that one morning. Some things for the better, some things for worse. We will never know what the world would have been like without September 11. At the Arts on Foot event yesterday, I volunteered at an event sponsored by The 9/11 Arts Project. We made dream scrolls envisioning a future after 9/11. Our hopes for the world and what it could be like. Most of the drawings and messages had messages of happiness, of hope, of unity, of peace, and of love. Those are the things most people want, I think, no matter where you go in the world. We all just want to live our lives.

We all just want to be people.


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