Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11: Pivotal vs. Influential

This weekend, most people are remembering ten years ago. They are remembering a time when they were different, when the United States was different. They are remembering the choking terror as smoke billowed from two buildings in New York, another building a mess of rubble, an airplane crashing into nothing, far away.

I am doing the same. I think, very often, that September 11 seems to mean something different for my age group - those now ages 20-30 - than for many of the older adults I know. For them, yes, it was horrifying and a catastrophe. But the difference is in how we've lived after it.

I'm not saying this event didn't affect older adults - those now 50 and older. It certainly affected everyone in the United States deeply. I'm not discounting their reaction. But for those who had less life experience at the time of the attack, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.

That day, everything became starkly Before and After. It is not a far stretch to say September 11 is our Pearl Harbor, as it is for everyone. Being younger, however, I believe it altered life for us in a more distinct way.

I was in high school when the planes struck the Twin Towers. At that age, I was much more impressionable, especially in regards to such devastation. The United States wasn't involved in any wars at that point. Any devastation taking place in the world was very much beyond myself, even if I was aware of it and concerned about it. I wasn't living in a bubble, by any means, but there was that notion of the U.S. being untouchable.

I did not live through the Vietnam War's effects on our country. I did not live through the race riots. I did not see the newspapers the day after Kennedy's assassination. Up until 2001, the worst event in my personal lifetime was the Oklahoma City bombing. Still, I was only ten when that happened and couldn't fully understand it - hell, I don't understand it now, but I have more perspective, at least.

At 17, I had read Slaughterhouse Five. I hated politics and wanted nothing at all to do with them. I knew that many people around the world hated the United States, and Bush's manner of taking office hadn't helped improve their opinion. I knew little about the Middle East and nothing about losing a loved one.

In school that day, we watched news footage in every class. Every hour, the terror of the situation was drilled into me. I recall watching Fox News on the huge screen in the auditorium, where they showed shots of Palestinians running through the streets in joy, celebrating that their enemy had been attacked. (Fox also said the attacks were probably planned by them, just because of how happy they were. Good reporting, guys.)

As we left the auditorium for our next class (to watch more news footage), a random kid next to me said something about going over there and killing those bastards who'd attacked us. My first thought, having been so immersed in this for hours, was, Yeah, we should do that.

And then I physically stopped in the throng of teenagers, a stone in the river as they moved around me. And I thought, How would that solve anything?

That was the beginning of my political activism. That was when I realized that even if I hate politics, I can't sit idly by or nothing will ever change. My world was shaken, my direction was altered, and for that and many other reasons, 9/11 became a pivotal moment in my life.

Many older Americans were better braced for this kind of thing, just in having more worldly experience. Again, it's not that they weren't affected, and every individual is different.

But for me, the rest of my life is an After 9/11 experience.

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