September 11, 2011 - A Personal Reflection
Stop dredging this up, I thought to myself. The memorials, the flags – there’ s been plentiful commemoration.
And here I am, sleepless, almost tearful, about September 11, 2001, before I fall asleep on September 14, 2011.
I was sixteen on September 11, 2001. I was a junior at Lakewood High school. It was a normal Tuesday. Without describing too many mundane details, just picture a sixteen-year-old girl in a semi-cool American Eagle Outfitters outfit carrying a gym bag containing Adidas shorts and an oversized t-shirt for cross country practice. I got to homeroom in plenty of time to socialize with my friends on that day, which is saying a lot, because to traverse the entirety of the high school takes at least seven minutes at a moderate pace. Moments after arriving in homeroom, my teacher related what seemed a somewhat unconfirmed story of a plane “crashing” into one of the World Trade Center towers. Was that in New York? I didn’t really know what the World Trade Center was. Maybe if she had said, “Oh, you know, that building that they show in When Harry Met Sally” I would have instantly known. But, being a naïve junior, and never having been to New York City, I didn’t really comprehend the magnitude of that news. There were two towers? After walking to Spanish class, I was told by one somehow informed peer; “Oh, they flew a plane into the Pentagon, too.” It didn’t register with me. What was even going on? No teacher explained what had happened, maybe because they didn’t really know what was going on either. On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I can honestly say I was more concerned with conjugating Spanish verbs than with those unbelievable but confusing newsflashes. Cross country practice went on, too. I don’t remember the practice, but I know I still wasn’t fazed. The reactions at Lakewood High School had no real impact on me. Coming home after school and practice, my parents flipped through every network for any scrap of news they could collect about the event. It seemed completely horrifying to me that a commercial plane had crashed into an office building - but school resumed as normal, cross country practice commenced, homework was due. Life was not interrupted, and I was exhausted. My world didn’t change.
Two years later, I went to college to major in history and political science. Of course I can’t recall a politics course I took that didn’t integrate September 11, 2001 in its discussions. It was nearly impossible. Especially those foreign policy courses I took, which were defined by the tragic and unfathomable events of that day. Everything was marked by September 11, 2001. Math is a laughable weakness of mine, but I can do the math here: a decade passed since this horror occurred and just now, after majoring in political science and garnering an especial interest in foreign policy, I am finally shook up, sleepless, scared, worried. What is my problem?
To refresh my memory, I recently took an admittedly peculiar, perhaps morbid, approach to the tenth anniversary of the attacks in the form of YouTube video searches. I have been searching “September 11 footage.” When I thought about it, it was almost as though I was a jury member who had been living underground, completely ignorant of the most popular current event of the millennium. I watched the different networks’ broadcasters react to the second tower being struck. The disbelief, the fear, the immediate grief, the attempted stoicism so bravely adopted by these news personnel impressed and saddened me. I was at first disappointed in myself that I had not really, truly, grieved about this tragedy personally before. I considered it in my essay answers in my exams in college, contemplated its repercussions in term papers, but had I ever really thought about what President Bush considered an act of terror by faceless cowards? The answer is no, I had not. I was ashamed.
I voted for President Bush in 2004. Many of my friends did not, and you can believe me, they were proud of not having done so. After the controversy, the uncertainty, and the overall anger revolving our involvement in Iraq, I certainly second-guessed my decision to vote for this man and I often found myself avoiding the topic completely, or simply agreeing with the most liberal of my Democratic friends. But there is one thing George W. Bush had right. I’m 99.9% positive he didn’t write it himself, but he said, “America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.” That statement has stuck with me.
At work the other day, the fire alarm went off. It was not a drill. I’m still not sure what happened – it was probably an overheated coffeemaker. But, having recently watched YouTube videos about the September 11 attacks, I was obsessed with the horror and the remote and yet real possibility of such a terrorist event occurring. But as I walked down the 18 flights of stairs, overheated, anxious, and frustrated with my lollygagging coworkers as they plodded down the stairs while conversing about what an inconvenience the exodus was, I remembered to myself that September 11, 2001 will never happen again. Our nation, our state, our municipality – is safe. I can’t say whether I would have felt this way had Al Gore been elected. I honestly don’t know. I neither condone nor praise President Bush for his foreign policy measures, but I do honor him and the civilian heroes of that day. The heroism and courage of our president and of our people – the victims, the NYFD, fire departments across the nation including the Lakewood Fire Department – rose above the cowardice of those despicable terrorists. While my irrational fear of a terrorist hijacking a plane and crashing into my twenty-floor, rather nameless “skyscraper” in downtown Cleveland may enter my mind at inopportune times, I know better. Our nation has been strengthened at the expense of brave men and women, and while that fact saddens me deeply, it comforts me all the same.
I can sleep knowing I am safe. I will never be able to properly, personally thank those who gave me the power and confidence to make that assertion, which is why I want to tell you – don’t let a decade go by before you really reflect upon the events of September 11, 2001. Confront it, contemplate it, commemorate it – be grateful that we live in the land of the free, and remember why we are free.
Sleep well. Be well. We are safe.