The day that changed America

Dear Daughter,

Sunday will be the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. I don’t know how much you know about that event. You’ve mentioned learning a little something about it in school, which is kind of strange to me. I mean, it makes perfect sense that they would teach it in school, but to me it’s not a moment in history yet. It’s something I lived through and saw with my own eyes on TV. I’ve seen for myself how drastically our country has changed because of it. So it still seems like a current event to me, even though it happened years ago.

We adults like to ask each other, “Where were you on September 11th?” And everyone remembers. I’ve yet to hear a person say, “You know, I’m not sure…” That’s how monumental and huge and scary that day was. I was in my apartment, senior year of college. My roommate woke me up by telling me a plane had crashed into some buildings in New York City. I groggily made my way to the TV to see the footage. I remember my roommate saying, “The buildings are going to collapse. There’s no way they can keep standing with that kind of damage.” And sure enough, just moments later, they did collapse, first one, then the other. That’s when this became real, horrific. And then everyone started using the words “terrorist attack,” which simply bewildered me.

Later that day, while watching replays of the attack and listening to analysts and seeing a determined but worried president address the nation, I remember thinking, “This could be the end of the American empire.” I had recently taken a course in which I learned that throughout history certain countries have served as the world empire—the leader in economy, law, art, fashion—but eventually every empire lost its reign and a new country would take over. For decades, America had easily been the empire. We led the way in every area and other countries looked up to us. What we didn’t realize until September 11 is, lots of countries hated us as well. They didn’t want us to be the empire anymore.

Daughter, you’ve never known a pre-September 11 world. You don’t know how much simpler things were before that day. Besides the practical differences (can you believe we were once allowed to walk people all the way to their airplane gate, even if we didn’t have a ticket?), our attitude as a culture has changed drastically. We are cynical people, suspicious of everything. We assume there’s always an underlying conspiracy, and that conspiracy usually has something to do with money, or oil. We don’t trust our leaders. We don’t even trust 80-year-old women in the airport. No one is safe from speculation. Everyone is a suspect. The racial divide has improved, but that could be because we’re so afraid to offend anyone that we just come across as tolerant by default.

These are the kinds of things that happen when you think you are loved and important and suddenly learn that quite the opposite is true. September 11 is like the day that America finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her. Love will never look the same to her, and she’s unable to trust any man ever again.

It’s not all grim. There are many benefits that came from that event. I can’t speak for the government but the average American man is wiser with his money. We’re not so spoiled anymore; we have to work hard to get and keep a job. There is a greater emphasis on family than there was in the pre-9/11 years. We’re more aware now that any day could be our last, so we treasure our loved ones while we can. We have better technology, security measures and a humongous army. Our distrust of everything has caused us to be the most prepared nation in the world.

When you learn about September 11 in school, I expect that the details will simply blend into the list of facts that you are required to know, co-mingled with the likes of the Civil War and the Holocaust. If one hasn’t lived through a horrific event such as this, one tends to be desensitized to its effects. But you’re living through the effects, whether you know it or not. And while I wish so badly that you could have experienced life before that tragic day, I’m excited to see how your generation rebounds. I pray that you will be a resilient, creative, ambitious generation, determined to put the dirty past behind you and to forge a new road of trust, collaboration and innovation. In life, we are given the choice to either dwell on our problems or to make the best of them. May you make the best of the tragedy known as September 11, 2001.

Love,
Mom

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