9/11 - 10 years later
Today, my facebook news feed was filled with statuses sharing what people remember from 10 years ago today. If I were to try to think back that far to any other Tuesday, I doubt I'd be able to remember a thing (who am I kidding, remembering what I did last Tuesday is hard). But just like most others my age, my memory starts much the same way - I was in my senior year of high school, and at the time I was in European History working on a group project. Mr. Ditman left the room for a minute to get something from the printer for one of the students in our class. When he returned, he told us that he knew there wasn't supposed to be a place for religion in public schools, but he knew what he needed to do it. He told us that a plane had hit the world trade center in New York, and that he would like us to gather together to pray for those inside. I personally am not very religious, but I stand by the choices Mr. Ditman made that day - we needed guidance from an adult, and he provided it in the form of his prayer. Right around 9:00 am, he turned on our classroom television, and we, like many others in the school, watched in silence as the rest unfolded on the news. When news broke of the Pentagon attack, many students began to panic, and many classroom teachers forwent the normal rules and allowed students to try to call home from the classrooms.
My reflections in the days and weeks that followed have remained largely the same when I think back on the events of that day. Ten years ago, my thoughts were about how unsafe it now felt to be in our country - and about how children in war zones must feel that all the time. I was in awe of the outpouring of pride in our country, in being an American, but also saddened by the hatred that was blanketed over a group of people simply because a few extremists happened share some commonalities. And I felt swells of emotion when I thought of all of the first responders that day, most of whom knew the tragedy that lay before them, but reported for duty anyway.
I recently visited the Faces of Ground Zero: 10 Years Later at the Time Warner Center in New York City, and while in New York, I caught my first in person glimpses of Ground Zero in person. Some of the very same emotions went through my grown-up mind now 10 years later, as those that traveled through my teenage brain in 2001. I feel mixed emotions about the wars our country has been fighting since that attack. I feel the same swell of emotion for those who have reported for duty, which I think can be summed up with a line from the Bixby letter that George W. Bush read today "and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom". I feel a tremendous amount of indebtedness to those who serve or have served our country - they have signed up for a job that requires great courage, and they have gone forward with the knowledge that they may not return. When I think of the wars our country is fighting, I still can't help but think of how more innocent people continue to lose lives - a hurt that is so universal - a hurt that is not unlike what people felt when they lost loved ones on that day 10 years ago.
Ten years later, I continue to feel saddened that my fellow countrymen continue to show hatred or discrimination towards people simply because they are Muslim, or are of Middle Eastern decent. There are extremists in every religion, every sect. Nobody deserves to have to take the blame for something one person did just because they share the same hair color, or eye color, or overarching religion. Extremists can interpret ANY religion to justify ANY poor decision, and it shouldn't put the entire group under an umbrella of shame. I was relieved to hear today that there would be interfaith remembrance events, because this event didn't leave a single American untouched - and what makes me proud to be an American is that I can call myself that regardless of my race, religion, gender, or country my family originated from.
Sadness is not all I feel on this Patriot Day in 2011. I also feel hopeful. And this reason is two-fold. We have stuck by two sentiments that we heard countless times in the days and weeks that followed 9/11. We must move forward, and we must never forget. I observed both of these things many times over today. Moments of silence, memorial ceremonies, and sharing stories of that day occurred all over the country. But normal things happened too. Some of which were as normal as what may have been happening on September 10th, 2001. I laughed with friends. My dad watched football. My best friend boarded a flight to head home. Cory photographed a wedding. My day with friends was speckled with moments of reflection and remembrance. Football games all began with tributes, and players and coaches wore hats and ribbons to honor those lost. And while there was a heightened sense of uncertainty in airports and on airplanes, to have planes in the sky this evening, unlike this day 10 years ago, we are saying we cannot be brought down. And for the couple that got married, many would say why today? But really, what day better to share your love and devotion to one another? On this day 10 years ago, we were reminded to love - to feel it deeply, share it openly; this tragedy reminded us of the fragility of life.
My hope for the future is that we continue to live life with more purpose than before. That we face our differences with more compassion. That we appreciate our family and friends with the knowledge that we can't plan when we go, or when they might leave us. And, that we never forget the events of that day. We can't forgot those who we lost, we can't forget the feelings we had.
One last thought that I walk away from today with - sometimes the rules are meant to be broken; sometimes you have to just do what's right. A hero is someone that knows when to make those tough calls. For me, being so far removed from the tragedy, those heroes were the teachers that knew we needed to know, but knew we also needed their support in digesting this news. At ground zero and the pentagon, the heroes were the people that led others out of those towers even when people were told to stay put, and those who were told not to go back in who went searching anyway. The heroes are those on flight 93 who made the decision to fight back. The heroes are those who can pray alongside someone of another religion, fight alongside someone of another race, and combat fear with notions of peace.