Please be aware right now: This post is in regards to September 11th, 2001. I am not an expert in anything except my own opinion. At no point am I intending to offend anyone, or diminish the tragedy that happened. I’m just trying to understand my own position, and perhaps those around me.
I’m going against my own personal rules for this. I swore I wasn’t going to write yet another September 11th memorial thing. But something that came up in my social media earlier today made me think of this, and now I’ve got this blog in my head and I can’t get it out.
Ah well. Best laid plans.
Because here’s the thing: I have forgotten. Because I never really knew in the first place.
Here’s what I remember about September 11th, 2001.
- I walked into my 8th grade social studies class and saw a smoking building on TV. My first thoughts were “that’s weird, why is the TV on? The TV is never on. I wonder what happened to that building. Where is it?”
- As my teacher was starting to explain, the second plane hit.
- Now I know this was in New York City. Weird! I live in New York. Other side of the state, but wow. My state! Why are planes flying into buildings? Is this an accident? Intentional? Jeez.
- At some point, the schedule was arranged so that we could have an assembly for the principal to tell us what was up. Talking about family and friends in NYC. I’m fairly sure I don’t know anyone in the city.
- I go home at the normal time. I am unbothered by the whole situation.
- My parents tell me that I do actually know two people who work in Manhattan, but neither of them (by sheer luck) were there today. I’m worried for a second, but then calm. They’re safe! Cool.
…That’s it. I remember starting to hear about the other flights crashing, and realizing that something was seriously wrong, but other than that, I remember thinking “hey, Somerset County. I’ve heard of there! My family has roots there.”
Nothing more. No horror, no shock, no “oh god my country is under attack.” The weirdest moment was looking through my pictures from a trip I’d taken to NYC back in July of ’01 and finding a perfectly centered photo of the Towers. That was a weird feeling. The picture stayed in my locker, I believe, until I graduated.
I have friends who remember the whole day being one of shock. Being filled with pain. But I don’t. At all.
Because here’s the truth of the matter. In September of 2001, I was 13 years old. I’d turn 14 at the end of the year. I had absolutely no setting in my head that could comprehend “terrorist attack on homeland soil.” That was a thing that happened in the movies, not in real life. The scope of the actions were completely unfathomable. And even in the years following, my understanding of it always seemed a few steps removed. It was still too big. It was happening over there somewhere. My most real moment was when an online friend was deployed to Afghanistan, and then Iraq. (After that, he went to Korea. And then home. Still alive to this day, as far as I know. We’ve grown apart.)
I remember where I was on May 1st, 2011 as well. I was sitting in the living room of the last house I lived in back in New York, watching something on DVD with my mother. Suddenly, Twitter was alive with noise about the President speaking about something. Big things! Important things! Must pay attention! So I asked Mom to pause the DVD and switch on the news so we could figure out what was going on.
And that was the night the announcement went out that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
That event resonated more with me. Not because of a sense of victory, not because of what had happened a few months shy of ten years earlier. But because a nation was lauding the death of another human. I was not, am not, never will be a sympathizer for bin Laden. I believe he was wrong in what he did, morally abhorrent, and a whole manner of other awful things. The world is probably a better place without him.
But he had a family. And they lost a member of that family that day. Even if I hated him, even if I wanted him dead and gone with everyone else who’d perished on September 11th, it felt wrong to be cheering on the murder of another person. I remember several Christian friends making similar noises. I never quite figured out how to handle that.
Have I forgotten the events of September 11th, 2001? No. Of course not. I lived in New York, I live now in Virginia, I am surrounded by those who were directly affected by the events of that day. I see the remnants in where our soldiers are dying and killing.
Was I personally affected by the events? No. I didn’t know anyone in the Towers, nor anyone in the Pentagon, nor anyone on any of the planes. It is a situation entirely apart from me.
And that’s why I don’t talk about it. I think that war is abhorrent. I think that killing is abhorrent. I cannot believe that two (or more) wrongs make a right. I think there are pieces of how the US handled these attacks that were right, and I think there are probably an equal number that I believe were handled badly. And I don’t think words alone will change anything.
It’s all well and good to post pictures of the burning towers, or of the flag, or of any other patriotic thing. I think it’s important to remember what happened, because if we forget our history, we will be doomed to repeat it. But change will only come when those words become actions–and not actions of hate. Not actions of violence.
Actions of peace.
Is everyone going to listen? No. Extremists are a thing, and they’re the reason this happened. There will likely always be extremists, lurking in the shadows and waiting to screw things up. But if we are the strong and united country we say we are, then each time we fall we shall rise again, and woe to the wicked.
The only way the terrorists win is if we become terrified. And I believe we have.
I do what little I can, and know how to do. I studied Islam in school. I read the Qu’ran. I’ve tried to understand the culture and religion of the land that birthed the people who performed the attack–and those elsewhere who find the attack just as awful as we do. I try to stand firm with them, speak where I can, stay silent when I cannot be heard. And I acknowledge that every word I say, both here and elsewhere, comes from a place of no expertise. I’m one person, with my own opinions, and a boat load of flaws.
But I still hope for peace. I hope for the fighting to stop. I hope for the fear to leave this country, before it’s too late.
We’re not the best we can be. But we could be.
We are what make this country great–and we are the one who can heal it.
And that is what we should never forget.