In the fall of 2002 I sat in my comparative politics class. I had an amazing professor who predicted the next 15 years of political happenings from the soon to be Iraq war to Arab Spring, he predicted each.
He also told us about the day FDR died. He was a boy of only 5 years old, but it was undeniably burned into his memory. His parents crying, the funeral procession, the overall feeling. He also described the assassination of JFK. These he said, are moments that are burned into the identity of a generation.
For my generation, a lovely late summer morning like any other was engraved into our memories. We all have our stories. Each year we rehash where we were, what we felt, and what the memory of 9/11 means to us. As years go by we remember different moments less clearly, but all of us have been changed, some far more directly than most.
It’s important to share these memories, to reshape them, and to acknowledge their impact on who we are as individuals and as a group. Here are some of my most vivid memories.
Disbelief: I watched with horror, not believing what was unfolding miles away. I would build close friendships with lots of people who were effected, some directly.
Fear: Living relatively close to 3 Mile Island as flight 91 was being hikacked, not knowing where my brother was or having a way to contact him. There were some brief moments of real, genuine fear.
Community: Not just the brave first responders, not the amazing spirit of the people of New York and DC banding together, or even the wave of American pride that spread, but the hundreds of college students who had just met that banded together to donate blood. By 10am hundreds of us were at the local hospital. They had to set up a whole floor to handle all of the people giving blood. Volunteers and first responders, the helpers as Mr Rogers called them, created a new narrative of hope and community.
Hate: Not the hate of those who attacked us, but our own hate and bias shown through. I had a friend in college who was new to the United States from India. He lived the first few weeks after the attacks afraid to travel alone. We, his new friends, accompanied him everywhere, from class to the corner store. While there was so much positive response, there was also the negative reaction. This event brought out the best and the worst in us. It’s important to remember all of it and look to embrace those aspects we hope to be rather than those that we sometimes allow ourselves to become.