United We Stand

11 Sep

Foreward: The following post reflects solely the thoughts and experiences of the author (namely, myself). I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who have served and who continue to serve and protect this country and all that it stands for (shout outs to Arianna (just graduated boot camp!), Joz (currently rocking it out at West Point), Stephen (recently left for the Navy), and Cody (currently serving in the Marines)). September 11th is presumably the greatest tragedy of my lifetime, and the scars it has caused will take more than a lifetime to heal. American the Beautiful and all that you stand for, I salute you.

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Ten years ago today, the sky fell. Out of the piecing blue came two planes and two seemingly indestructible steel towers. Out of the morning fell papers and bodies and our sense of security. Out from the ash and the fumes rose a newfound sense of vulnerability and fear. As the smoke plumed and billowed in the sky, patriotism and unity rained down across the nation. United We Stand.

The years in which I have been raised have been decreed as the post-9/11 era, where everything is different. All anyone’s ever talked about is how different things are. But for things to be different, for the ways things are now to be the “new” normal, there had to have been an “old” normal. A previous way of living. And as tempting as it is for me to attribute my next statement to the majority (read: in general, those outside of the New York metropolitan area, a category in which I am not included (reppin’ New Jersey, THE BEST STATE!)) of my generation, I can really only speak to myself. Having been 9 years old at the start of the post-9/11 era, I really don’t remember what “normal” was. I don’t remember ever having gone to an airport without taking off my shoes and putting my computer in a separate bin. I don’t remember what the news used to talk about before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t remember being allowed into the NYSE. I don’t remember the skyline.

I am fortunate not to have lost any loved ones on 9/11, and so I cannot claim to have lost very much that day. It didn’t change my day-to-day life; despite my proximity to New York City (40 minutes by car, an hour by train), it was very much Over There- as, I tend to believe, it was for most (but by no means all) 9-year-olds outside of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts. From coast to coast, empathy and rescue efforts were sent to the victims and their families; everyone wanted (wants, really) to do something to let the metropolitan area and DC know they were not to bear this burden alone.

We are a nation that stands and falls United, my favorite of our country’s credos, and the idea that a few people half a world away could upend 50 states-worth of strength was scary. Is scary. Could it happen again? Which city is next? And yet for we children who didn’t really know- who didn’t lose our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends- did it change us?

Maybe not yet, but it will. Speaking of the direct aftermath, however, I’m tempted to say no- until I remember all of the kids in my class who, for weeks, would come in groggy from nightmares of the terrorists coming and blowing up the school, the mall, the homes, the highways. Until it stopped. And nothing had changed. At 9, 10, 11 years old, the main focus was recess games, wall ball tournaments, slumber parties, and the “it” bags and clothes- as it should be. No matter how many kids watched the news on the day of and the days directly proceeding the attacks, I would be willing to bet good money that within a week it was more Nickelodeon than ABC. 9/11 became something we read about in a history book; it was rarely spoken of, and discussed in detail even less than that. Towards the end of middle school, sparks would fly over who was “for” or “against” the war, but that, too, was Over There in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even now, no amount of War on Terror statistics helps me to really understand what war is like. No amount of war features on NBC or photos in the New York Times or stories in Newsweek gives me the feeling some people live with every day, constantly worrying about their brothers and sisters and friends and family. My generation hasn’t yet had any direct contact with war- I have never lived through a draft, nor has there ever been a (serious) Cold War-type threat of nuclear destruction. In 20 years when people my age are filling seats in Congress and the White House, it will be interesting to see how this removal affects war policy decisions of the future.

Naturally, everyone’s experiences surrounding September 11, 2001 are different. A good friend of mine’s father wears a turban, and over the past 10 years he has been assaulted, his car vandalized, his race profiled- and he’s not even Muslim. He’s Sikh. So while she didn’t have close ties to any of the victims, her world turned upside down just because of a hair piece. It’s only the past few years, probably since my junior year of high school, that the impact of September 11th has really hit home. I initially intended to write this piece about my early experiences with 9/11, but I couldn’t do that honestly. I don’t remember my emotions, my thoughts, my feelings, my premonition (or lack thereof) of how different things were about to become. I remember wanting to watch the news and being annoyed that I couldn’t, but that’s really all. I didn’t get it. Today, I feel I’m that much closer. I cried, I reflected, I remembered. And yet, tomorrow will be another day. And for such a large percentage of the country, myself included, it will be a return to normal. It will, unfortunately, be like today never happened. And the search for the normal of decades past will resume, a clinical unrest with the present because of this nagging feeling that something isn’t right.

Emile Durkheim says that “the man who has always pinned all of his hopes on the future and lived with his eyes fixed upon it, has nothing in the past as a comfort against the present’s afflictions…now he is stopped in his tracks; from now on nothing remains behind or ahead of him to fix his gaze upon. …For he cannot in the end escape the futility of an endless pursuit.” While he was writing on causes of suicide, and not so much how to move past a national tragedy, Durkheim has a point. Until we’ve determined what lessons we would like to learn from this breach on our freedoms, and decided what we want to do about it, we will forever be swimming in discontent.

I post this with the full understanding that it may upset some people, particularly those who, like me, may not have known anybody, but unlike me, felt not just scared but vulnerable and violated, even at such a tender age as nine. Maybe I, not them, am the anomaly, and maybe I was (am) too detached. Maybe I just don’t understand. Because I can’t (nor, as any widow(er) or parent-less child will tell me, do I want to). The tragic events of 9/11 are a national tragedy, one that deserves every tear and dollar and iota of energy spent on it. It will be interesting to see how coming of age in an era of precaution and potential terror, of technology and insurmountable debt, of perpetual war and holes in southern Manhattan, shapes us as adults. Shapes, not changes- experiences aside, we were hardly whole people at 9 years old. This summer I was a camp counselor for a group of 9-year-olds, and my coworkers and I dismissed so much of what they did as childish antics- and not necessarily in a bad way.But who’s to say we were any different? Change implies that there was something concrete there to begin with. There can be no difference if there was nothing there before.

We will never find the current “normal” to be “normal,” for we will be too busy looking toward the day when things will once again resemble the “old normal.” While New York City without 9/11 is clearly the ideal, that New York City will never again exist. Instead, I implore you all to call those who matter to you and tell them so (Facebook-ing is not good enough!). To make sure all 2,753 victims whose lives were lost that day did not die in vain. To make the city our children will inhabit better than the one now deceased- educate, volunteer, rally, do something, say something. It may be cliché, but Ghandi had it right when he commanded us to “Be the change [we] wish to see in the world.” We can be the people we’ve been waiting for. We are the people we’ve been waiting for.

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2 Responses to “United We Stand”

  1. jennifer September 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    insightful and beautifully written

  2. Kavisha September 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    I absolutely love reading your articles Jordana! You always make me think/look at things in a different way =)

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