The parade down Main Street in Cedar City, Utah this morning reminded me that this weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Reflecting on it, I realized that 9/11 was a formational experience for me and had a profound impact on the last decade of my life.
It was my senior year in high school. The beginning of my senior year. I was full of enthusiasm and optimism, planning the float for Homecoming and applying to colleges. Then, on the morning of September 11th, I sat in class and actually watched on live television as the 2nd plane hit the Twin Towers. It did not seem real. Then, the news quickly switched over to footage of the Pentagon on fire. The Pentagon! That was a 20 minute drive from where I sat. The classmate in front of me gasped and searched frantically for her cell phone. Her father worked at the Pentagon. Many of my classmates and friends families worked there. We could have been watching our loved ones being burned alive.
My inherent trust in the outside world changed.
9/11 was not even all that happened that school year. One of my teachers, Dr. Slade, a kind and trusting man, let a young man into his home to use the telephone only to have his throat slashed and be left for dead in his own home. Amazingly he survived, underwent surgery and then a court trial, and made it back to the classroom before the end of the school year. He was our government teacher and he had to explain to us through disillusioned eyes how the fact that his attacker went free was actually a great example of the justice system working the way it should. His day in court had ended in a mistrial because of errors in police work.
My understanding of justice and being kind to strangers changed.
It was a turbulent year, a year which still included our school’s crew coach being murdered by his wife who was suffering from post-partum depression and Dr. Slade dying from cancer after surviving the assualt. I lived with a knot in my stomach and a high level of anxiety that was just below the surface. The feelings then were so strong that they come back to me now as I write and I feel nauseous just trying to get through this post.
So just being a young person living in the DC area going about my business as usual, I was affected very strongly by the events of September 11th. This sense of anxiety and uncertainty influenced my decision on where to go to college. I went to the school that was closest to home. I made other conservative decisions too and focused on family and service. I thought a lot about why we were attacked and wondered if it was safe to travel around the world (a concern that grew as we went to war). I felt guilty that I was not sacrificing for the war effort and actually hoped for the draft to be reinstated so that the nation’s sacrifice would be more equitable. I watched, feeling helpless as my muslim friends felt like targeted outsiders in their own country.
I’m glad that September 11th is now a day of service and remembrance. I hope that in remembering, we can try to reflect and come to a new understanding of how the events of that day 10 years ago still shape our lives and how we want to make sense of it.