9/11: The Feelings
I, like many people, can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on 9/11. I was in high school in advanced English studying Othello when Mr. Simms, the junior English teacher came running into our classroom to instruct us to turn on the television.
What happened next can best be described as an out of body experience. I recall the TV coming to life and the image of that tower smoking, the frantic statement of a woman who had witnessed the impact. No longer than 30 seconds had transpired between the time my classroom tuned in to the time the second plane hit the second tower.
I recall teachers and classmates alike in tears, and I recall this specifically because in an abstract sort of way I was pondering my lack of tears. I recall parents arriving, ostensibly to collect their children, but instead themselves seated in school desks alongside children watching the chaos unfold.
Classes discontinued that day. We stayed in the same room rooted to the television and I recall when the first of the two towers collapsed. I recall this very vividly because the towers were not the only thing that collapsed that day. Until then, in my short time on this earth, the great United States of America had never been attacked on home soil. It was unthinkable. My safety within the United States was absolute, and my faith in that safety no less than my faith in God. After all, the United States wields the most awesome military machine ever assembled in the history of mankind. How could we be attacked? Who could possibly have the audacity to even try when even the mighty USSR dared not, when even Hitler's Germany was forced to bow?
The moment that tower came down a lump formed in my throat, a lump it would take me years to finally understand. Why mourn the collapse of the tower hours later, when the tragic loss of life in the hours preceding should have been my focus? I later understood that what I was mourning was not the loss of a building of stone and steel, but the shattering of my illusion of invincibility. A handful of people conspired and coordinated to rob an entire nation of peace of mind.
At the time of the attacks I simply could not understand why anyone would hate us so. "They hate us for our freedoms" was bandied about on TV quite a bit, but I could not get that to make sense in my 17 year old head. How can anyone hate freedom? To be sure at that age I am fairly certain I only had the vaguest notion of what freedom meant anyway.
What happened that day was a group of people violated our peace of mind, our sense of safety, and the sanctity of the virtues I believe the United States, or at least her citizens, stand for.
What happened after is a period in American history that I hope we are not judged too harshly for. We went through all the stages of grief from denial, through anger, and some years later finally into acceptance. The wave of anger, and I will admit I was caught up in it too, that swept through this nation in the weeks and months following those attacks unified us as a people in a way that had not been seen since Pearl Harbor. In our anger many of us lashed out at anything even remotely Middle Eastern, in fact many of us still do today.
Our anger so great, our resolve so strong, that in our fury at what had been taken we leveled not one but two nations seeking vengeance and retribution. I remember feeling pride when Bush Jr. told the world they were "either with us or against us." I remember feeling a sick and sadistic pleasure in the punishment inflicted upon an entire people, strike that, two entire peoples, for the actions of a few. I can only speak for myself as I say that I have come to realize over time that no amount of bombs dropped in Afghanistan or Iraq would ever bring that feeling of surety, that absolute and unshakable faith in the invincibility of the United States back again for me. It is forever lost, as I suspect it is for many Americans. Forever lost much as my innocence was lost, for I was no better than the man next to me calling for blood.
The lasting collateral casualties
Make no mistake about this, the French people, the every day guys and gals that go to work and raise their families and are no different from you or I have lost much, much more than 160 people tonight. They have lost their right to be left alone. They have lost their sense of peace. They have lost their faith in the ability of their government to protect them. I mourn these losses for them. I pray the French heal as quickly as possible. I pray that what I will say is their justified rage is met with temperance and wisdom, lest they fall into the same issues we have fallen. I do not want to wake up and see that in the wake of these horrific events the French people vent their rage only to years later come to terms with one stark and startling question.
Have I traded my dignity and humanity for revenge? I pray the French people never wake up in the middle of the night asking themselves that very question.