Life after 9/11

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For Americans my age and younger, it’s been confusing to grow up with the spectre of 9/11 hanging over much of our lives. I was 12 when the Twin Towers were destroyed – old enough to understand what was happening on a human level, but not quite comprehensive of the political, social, economic, religious, etc. that also surround human tragedies.

Nearly half my life ago, America changed forever. Any kids I might have won’t know the difference between life on 9/10/2001 and their own lives. They’ll sleep through the lesson on it in high school History class. Unless something else happens to make us insist on preserving this memory, like a scene in a snowball, in our national psyche for several decades to come?

screen grab from The Des Moines Register

I first heard about the attacks through a couple news headlines and a few pictures I saw while getting ready for school (I was in junior high). A couple of my friends had seen them too, but more hadn’t. We talked excitedly and over our heads until 1st period bell rang. At the time, I felt a bit of pride at being “in the know,” but this was darkened by a foreboding that things were getting worse, and none of us knew it.

Our 3rd period math lesson was cancelled. The teacher gave us a straight talk, and tried to explain the tragedy honestly to us. I don’t think any of us 12-year-olds really got the point. We understood “plane crash” and “people dying” and “New York,” but not much else. For the rest of class, we watched more television news we didn’t comprehend.

I honestly don’t remember the rest of that day. In fact, one of my most persistent thoughts for the next week was that I somehow wasn’t caring enough, or at least not so naturally as those with friends or family in NYC. Nor do I remember when the fullness of the calamity struck me, but it was within a couple days. It seems young for such a realization, but people grow up quickly amid tragedies.

What I remember for sure is that the realization hit me when I heard how the passengers of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves by overtaking the hijackers and crashing their own plane. This still stands out to me as one of the most tragic and inspiring stories from 9/11. It’s certainly shaped my concepts of “hero.” I still get chills thinking about a plane full of people who have never met, looking at each other, nodding, agreeing that yes, they would die fighting this together.



[This post is an expansion of a comment on Kalyn’s recent blog, RE: experiencing 9/11 while very young – perceptive enough to understand that something very big and important and sad has just happened, but not yet mature enough to understand more.