Today is September 11, 2014.
13 years ago, I was in eighth grade. The teachers at my school, as at many schools, had conflicting opinions about sharing the tragic news of the falling of the twin towers with their students. Because of that, I didn’t even know what had happened that day until around 11:30 AM CST, about four hours after the attacks took place.
I was part of the ‘Gifted Accelerated Program’ at my middle school. All of my classes, apart from electives, were held upstairs separate from the rest of the school. To the best of my knowledge, the teachers for the GAP program had conferred and agreed that it would be best if they didn’t tell us, the students. We should find out from our parents, they thought. What our teachers didn’t take into account was that during our music and lunch periods we would be launched into the thralls of the entire school population, where other teachers had not made the same choice.
After lunch, when we returned to the upstairs wing, the whispers were too loud to focus. The teachers were unable to teach any longer. We all wanted answers. The stories were not cohesive. Was the US in a state of war? Should we still be at school? Was this some small event that had been blown to massive proportions through a game of middle school telephone?
Mr. Brown was my English Literature teacher. I suspect he had been on the side of sharing the truth with us during the vote our teachers had quietly organized that morning. When our questions came, he shook his head. He told us he didn’t have the answers. What he did have was a television with access to cable. We watched the attacks play over and over again on the news, as they would for the next few weeks, for two hours that day.
I went home after school. My mom couldn’t answer my questions any more clearly than Mr. Brown. She looked exhausted, I remember. Her eyes were red from tears. There was even an air of physical pain brought on by the situation to be revealed in her clenched jaw. Over the next few weeks, as my mom stayed glued to the television, I became irritated. I would snap and tell her to turn it off. It wasn’t doing anyone any good, I would say. She would tell me that there were people with stories to be told. Those people deserved to be heard, she said.
I didn’t realize it then. I’m not sure if I even realized it a few years ago, but my life, and the life of an entire generation changed deeply that day. There is a fragility attached to life that so many of the millenials, myself included, had previously been unaware of. A fragility that in an ordinary* situation reveals itself slowly. We had seen glimpses, someone’s father passing or a house burning down, but never the whole picture. Most of us had never witnessed a true tragedy like this.
That day on September 11, 2001, we all took a huge step toward growing up together. A communal loss of innocence that cannot be recreated. We, also, witnessed the strength of our nation firsthand. Nothing stopped. Life continued. We were so lucky in this way, and I’m sure we were not appropriately grateful for it.
Today I hope after all the time that has passed that our generation in a very particular way can appreciate our place in the United States of America, and the security that thus far has come alongside it.
Ask me in ten more years, I’m sure I’ll have a different perspective then,
*Ordinary as in what we as Americans have been sold to be ordinary. I’m aware that my version of ordinary and a child raised in Iraq’s version of ordinary may be very different. I don’t want these words to seem insensitive. That is not my intention here. This is simply my individual experience.