Not 12 after the 11th
I remember being 12 years old and believing, as I always had- that America was the strongest country in the world. I even remember thinking that we had to be ‘liked’ or at the very least, respected by everyone because we as a country gave birth to freedom in the truest sense.
At that age, I wanted to believe bloody, violent wars were behind us- that the future brought with it peace and civil conflict resolution.
All of that washed away on September 11th, 2001. I was in 7th grade walking to social studies without a care in the world. I can still hear all the confused conversation; people thinking it was a joke, or some freak accident- I can still feel the goosebumps on my skin when the cries of painful realization and understanding came to us.
My school didn’t allow us to watch any of the news coverage in school. We weren’t allowed to discuss it. As fire, ash and cement suffocated, crushed and killed thousands of lives just 5 hours away, I was forced to act as if it was just another day in class. I didn’t know it then, but this would not do me any favors in the years to come.
The following Summer my family and I went on a vacation to Washington, DC. We were at the Vietnam Memorial one night when I heard really loud planes flying nearby. Without even realizing it, I was shaking, crying and fearing for my life. I was convinced we were in the next attack- and I wasn’t the only one. People nearby were looking up and around, expecting to see something fall out of the sky too. Nothing in the world could have made us feel safe or secure.
That evening, my (embarrassed) 12 year old self realized I would probably never feel safe or secure anywhere, ever again. I no longer felt like a young girl with the world at her feet but rather a powerless, trembling child in a consistent state of fear.
I was hoping to write this and be able to tell you that I didn’t still feel like that, that I’ve miraculously found the mind over matter cure- but I can’t. I’m still as scared of hate and intolerance as I was that summer night.
You see- on September 11th, my surroundings didn’t allow me to feel the severity of the situation. Nobody sat me down and said “From now on, you’ll wonder every day of your life if you or someone you love will fall to an act of terrorism… “. Instead I was taught to act like it wasn’t actively changing the person I would grow up to be.
I’m 23 now and I am feeling the pain of September 11th more today than I have any other year since it happened. It’s as if I’ve just let all of those realities hit me for the first time. Maybe it was the TLC documentary I watched last night, maybe it’s the fact that I can remember down to the second the last time I’d ever feel safe in this world… As I grow older, I grow more vulnerable. I become more aware of the magnitude of certain kinds of loss and change. I remain grateful that I have a life to live while being painfully aware of the fact that everything I know could disappear in an instant.
Life is beautiful but we live it in a scary world. I don’t ever feel safe and I am constantly aware of the fact that death could be around any given corner. Some people would let that destroy them, but I’ve let it build me. I consider my understanding of these hard realities to be a gift I was lucky to have received so young- because I’ll never live a day where I’m not trying to celebrate the life I still have. Reflect, respect, remember… and always rise.
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