The anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks fast approaches. Throughout the Internet, there are stories emerging which focus on peoples’ experiences on that tragic day.
Perhaps most poignant are the perspectives of those for whom that era was a vital period in their growth. Quite specifically, I’m talking about the youth of that decade.
On September 11, 2001, I was 12 years old and had just moved back to my hometown of Garfield, N.J. During that time, I was being homeschooled by my parents and was working on my writing class.
That morning, I remember walking into the kitchen and peering out the window. Something caught my eye. Out on the horizon, where I could just make out the New York skyline, I saw what was unmistakably smoke – an oddly large plume of it. I remember feeling nervous.
Seconds later, my mother got a call from my aunt. “I’m home,” she told my mother. “I’m safe. I can’t believe this happened.”
My mother, who did not yet know about the attack, asked her what she was talking about, and my aunt told her to turn on the news. We soon realized what was going on.
For me, it took a while to sink in. I initially did not grasp that this was real. Logic told me it was, of course. But that fact lay somewhere in the back of my mind as I contemplated how to process the mere idea that our country had been attacked by terrorists. I saw the twin towers get hit on TV – the ensuing fire and smoke was replayed over and over again as reporters discussed the disaster. And I thought to myself, this couldn’t actually happen! It’s impossible – not in our country!
I had such a grand impression of the U.S. when I was growing up. Perhaps that tragedy opened my eyes and made me see that we are not superior to everyone else in the world.
I don’t think that the youth of the day were desensitized to violence, but I do feel that, having not been children during times of war, as many of our parents and grandparents were, we did not share with them a certain layer of empathy.
But on September 11th, for me and many other East Coasters, that all changed.
I think that seeing those bodies – so many people forced to jump to their deaths from the twin towers – forever gave me a newfound appreciation for life and the world around me.
For me, the impact felt that day has reverberated through the intervening years, but there’s something else that changed for me after those attacks: suddenly, political issues had my attention.
I asked myself, “How could this have happened?” How, in a country that was supposed to be so secure, could these planes have been hijacked and used to decimate so many lives?
And then I grew to examine and dislike many of the policies enacted by then-President George Bush, and I had to delve deeper – whereupon I found that these greedy Republican politicians were far from the innocent protectors that I, a naïve kid, had thought them to be.
I recently talked to my friend, AZ Wallbrown, on what his thoughts on this disaster were. As we did not yet know each other back then, I was curious to see what his perspective on the matter had been, and what the experience was like for someone who was a year older than I at the time.
“I was at school during 8th period in the 7th grade,” AZ told me. “I walked out to the buses where my school bus driver was informing people of what happened. She said that the two towers had been hit by airplanes. At first,” he recalled, “I didn’t realize how much magnitude this would carry for America in the coming years, because frankly, I was a 13-year-old with not too many worries.”
Looking back on the tragedy, AZ also seemed to acknowledge that he too had developed political insight and opinion after 9/11. For one, he said, “It’s had an indelible influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East for the last ten years, and will continue to do so for years to come.”
Ultimately, AZ remarked, “I didn’t lose anyone, or know anyone who did, and I’m grateful for that in the long run.”
For my part, as I channel current events and world issues into my daily writing, I know that an understanding of the current political landscape, and of the value of human life, is essential.
In a post-9/11 world, I know that America is not a grand, safe haven as I once thought. The idea, I believe, is to make it so, and also to keep the spirit of empathy alive, so that the new generation of youth will let neither terrorists nor the right wing take away our hope and ambition.
Photo: Chao Soi Cheong/AP Photos