I don’t think I have anything new to say.
The memory of that day still lives in my body, and I cannot believe what our country has done in the name of 9/11. It’s interesting, too, how many novels have been written about 9/11–my favorite probably being Elements of Style. But there are so many books that even just tangentially involve 9/11 that its clearly it is something that as a culture we are still struggling to understand.
At any rate. A year after 9/11 I wrote an editorial for Young D.C. I was two days away from my 17th birthday. It seems a bit overly dramatic now, but then I was 16-going-on-17, and melodrama is sort of the deal, then. Also the editing is terrible and I can’t believe I’m posting this (eek!) but for posterity. And I don’t have anything new to say this year, so here’s what I said then.
The Way We’ll Be (published in the Sept 2002 issue of Young DC)
Well, it’s been a year.
Last Sept. 11 I was thinking about my sixteenth birthday, just 48 hours away–and a math teacher I didn’t like. I didn’t think much about wars. To be honest, I thought with its henchmen destruction and fear was something that happened in other countries, to other people.
I grew up devouring children’s books about World War II, the Gulf War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War. All names of things that happened so long ago. I kind of figured they were all over. It was the 21st Century: war would never directly affect me.
Then the whole idea blew up in my face.
War is too big an idea to swallow. I could not wrap my head around it, not then and, to some extent, not now. I didn’t especially know much about, or care much about, the World Trade Center. All I really knew of it was its prominence on the New York City skyline. All I knew of the Pentagon was that government stuff went on there. I knew nothing of Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
I did not believe the World Trade Center was gone. How could it be? How, I wondered could something that big, with that many people, just disappear?
I heard a story about a little girl in daycare in the WTC. She saw it all, saw more than I ever want to see, saw more than anyone ever should. When her parents found her, she told them she had seen birds on fire, shooting down the building. That night she told her parents she knew those weren’t birds.
A three year old I know turned on the TV to footage of the WTC. He told his mother that bad people who stole planes should have to rebuild the building they knocked down. I think he’s right, except you cannot rebuild lives once you’ve taken them. We all have these stories, touching and poignant moments, moments that make us shiver and shudder. They are part of the aftermath, which also includes the way that every time a plane flies low, heads pivot toward the sky. A thought-bubble hovers over every head, “Is it happening again?”
Mostly the aftermath is the way I am still scared. The way I emphasize now with the characters from the Tomorrow series by John Marsden, characters who are living in a war. Our situation is not so drastic as theirs. But, I understand how the way they knew with chilling certainty that it could happen to anyone.
We don’t live in a perfect or safe world anymore. Perhaps we never did. Every other generation experienced disaster, and this, I suppose, is ours. Just as we ask our parents “Where were you when you heard John F. Kennedy was shot?” our children will ask us “Where were you when you heard about the 9/11 attacks?” Because will remember. Because how can we forget?
I wish very much that I could tell you the causes of 9/11. I can’t. No one really can. How does anyone just wipe out that many people in a single day? What kind of anger and fear could possibly motivate that?
I will always wonder, and so should we all.
wall of front pages on 9/12/01, Newsuam. Photo winter 2009.