A poll taken just this week reveals that 58% of Americans fear a terrorist attack. Ten years after the Dealey Plaza moment of my generation, people are still unnerved. We can no longer carry nail files, letter openers, matches, lighters, or even water bottles onto planes. We must raise our arms, take off our shoes, and empty our pockets before we can board a jet that is reinforced with locked cockpit doors and discreetly positioned air marshals. Gone are the days of unquestioningly embracing cultural differences and anticipating foreign exchanges with passengers from other countries. Instead, Americans peer suspiciously at the world around them with cautious eyes.
Our nation’s innocence was ripped away on the morning of September 11, 2001. I, like most, remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. I, fortunately, do not remember it with the pain and grief still felt by the thousands of survivors and family members who lost loved ones on that day. I flew my flag high, plastered my car with 9/11 stickers, and attended church more often in the months following the attacks. I felt a common bond with every fellow citizen, regardless of their skin color. Patriotism, a trait that we all possessed but few portrayed, became a common denominator linking every person together in a formidable chain of empathy, solidarity and unity. We paid attention to the threat alerts and knew the colors well. We rallied behind our leaders and supported our troops as they marched into foreign countries to avenge our loss. We held our children tighter, watched out for our neighbors and said “I love you,” more often.
But that was then and this is now. The 9/11 memorial will be unveiled on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. Families will come to mourn, remember and honor those who gave their lives voluntarily as did most of the first responders, and involuntarily as did all of those who were on the hijacked planes or worked in the Twin Towers and at the Pentagon. College students remember the event, some from their parents’ recollections more than their own recall. Some teenagers swear adamantly that they remember every second of that terrible day. But middle school students, and the children entering our world today, do not. They have no comprehension of the before and after attitudes of our society. They did not experience the fear and terror that overtook our country at that moment and in the ensuing weeks. They are unfamiliar with the term “anthrax.” These children read about our nation’s greatest tragedy in history books. They see pictures of the towering gray steel frame and the dusty firefighters amidst a pile of rubble, in museums, not live on CNN. They know little about a bad man named Osama Bin Laden, except for that he is dead, and yet our nation is still divided over our presence in the Middle East.
But for those of us who were there and those of us who watched in disbelief, those of us who have had our lives permanently changed as a result of being witness to one of the most historical traumas in the psychological schema of this country, we will remember. Ten years later, we will honor the memory of all of those who we lost that day. We will reflect on how far our country has come and far we have to go. We will share stories with others and with our children. And most of all, we will never forget.
© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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