I was only a few weeks into my college career in 2001 when the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon occurred. I can still remember the raw emotion of that day, being dismissed from class, driving home to central New Jersey, and watching the coverage on TV, and being able to see the billows of smoke on the skyline. The following is a response I wrote for my English Comp class less than a week after the attacks. I found it while packing for our move to Louisiana and thought I’d share it in light of Sunday being the 10th anniversary of the day that changed my life and the lives of many in my generation:
“It’s different for your generation. My life is almost over already, but yours is just beginning. It’s so much harder for you.” My grandmother spoke these words about an hour after she watched my 17-year-old brother break down and cry at the singing of “America, the Beautiful.” Before that moment I hadn’t even thought of the difference age makes in a person’s reaction to the horrible crime committed on September 11th, but the more I think about it, the more my grandmother’s words make sense. She’s already lived through a lot. She was a young child when Pearl Harbor was attacked, a young adult when the Korean War began, and a young mother during the height of the Vietnam War. She witnessed the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Cold War. As terrible as the events of last Tuesday were, my grandmother has seen similar events before. My generation has not.
On September 12th, my friend and I went searching for newspapers detailing the previous day’s events. As I opened one newspaper I saw the headline: “My Generation’s Bloody Wakeup Call.” The young people in America had never seen something like this. We were just kids during the last years of the Cold War. We barely remembered the Gulf War, remembering only General Schwarzkopf and the thrill of victory and forgetting stories of death and destruction. And now we are starting our adult lives with the most horrific act of terrorism the world has ever seen. In one foul swoop, our innocence has been taken from us. In the blink of an eye, all our naive ideas about the good in people were found to be false. Even New York Giants’ quarterback Kerry Collins said, “We’ve lost our innocence.” America’s youth, from children to college students, grew up very quickly on Tuesday.
But in the face of what seemed like a hopeless situation, hope was found. For some reason, it takes the very worst in people to bring out the very best in people. The innocence that was lost on Tuesday was replaced by hope on Wednesday as stories of heroism began to replace those of disaster. As President Bush said on Friday, “We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion, in long lines of blood donors, in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible. And we have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice…. In these acts and many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another and an abiding love for our country.” We have seen our sports heroes reduced to ordinary men, just as scared as we are, and in that we have realized who the real heroes are. We will never look at a fireman or policeman in the same way. To us they will always be the real heroes. The over 400 rescue workers who lost their lives trying to save others will always be a symbol of our country’s greatness.
I am proud to say that I live in a better America now than I did a week ago. The 5,000-plus victims in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania did not die in vain. Their deaths have caused Americans to stand together and to love one another. Yes, we lost our innocence, but now we will no longer take things for granted, especially our freedom. In attacking us, these terrorists have made us stronger. We have lost landmarks and, more importantly, lives, but we have gained unity and resolve. Terrorists now find themselves in a war with not only the United States, but the whole world.
Tuesday’s attacks were the first major events in the lives of America’s youth and have forever changed us. We will never forget September 11, 2001, just as many do not forget December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963. It has been burned into our memories forever and will always serve as a reminder that we are vulnerable. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but no in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” We will overcome.