Yahoo! is asking Americans how September 11 changed them. Below is an account from a reader.
To be honest, I do not often think specifically about 9/11. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, but did not have any strong connection to Manhattan. As no one I knew personally had died, I thought at first that my story did not matter.
[Your story: How has September 11 changed you?]
Now I'm 18, a sophomore at the University of Delaware studying communication. As an editor at my school newspaper, I sometimes wonder if all the work I put into telling a story is even worth it.
Today, I sat with my fellow editors and we discussed what 9/11 meant and how the school was honoring the anniversary. I realized that we are a part of history, and no matter what it means to us, we have a story to tell. We all shared an experience we had today, like watching ROTC students running with the flag, or taking a break from checking our email during the moment of silence on Yahoo.com. The collective process of sharing helped us all commemorate the day better than we could alone.
This week I interviewed students in the marching band about what it meant to play "Thundering Stars" the day before 9/11 at the football game. I think most of them had not thought about it beforehand, and just asking them helped them put it into words and reflect. They could make meaning out of the day when they might not have done so on their own.
As I write this personal piece, I force myself to go back to 9/11. I was at an age where I was young enough to still be growing up and old enough to understand what happened. I can realize today how 9/11 changed who I have become.
At age eight, on September 11, my teacher received a call that brought her to tears. Her uncle, a firefighter, died saving citizens from a building. It was devastating and frightening as a child to see an adult, let alone my teacher, cry. It is something so out of the norm, that it can only mean that an event so life-changing must have happened.
I came home and while everything looked the same, the world felt different. My dad couldn't quite explain what had happened, but had said some people he knew could be hurt. When we went outside, it hit home as I saw a line of cars parked across the street. We found out that my neighbor was hit by a fireball while inside the elevator in one of the Towers. Today he is okay, but suffered through difficult rehab after the injury.
That evening, my family drove to the waterfront and looked across the river at the shadow of the Towers enveloped in two enormous, angry clouds of smoke. I could almost feel it from where I stood with my family. I watched, naively thinking, like with any normal fire, who is going to put it out?
That day, I did not know enough to understand. Today the memory of standing there, far enough to be safe but close enough to feel the indelible mark it left on our country, my family and my neighbors, is chilling. No one could do anything.
Until September 11, like most elementary-aged kids, I never worried about the safety of our country. We'd been learning since day one how powerful our country is, how strong our government is. We did the pledge every day, hands across our hearts looking up at the flag, "with liberty and justice for all." But we were never guaranteed our safety. Many of us took it for granted, not realizing that that is not one of the government's promises.
Today, I realize that the day made me more skeptical of our country. I like most Americans, lost my feeling of security. I do know that ever since that day, I'll be in a public area with little security, a crowded subway, on a street corner and think, "What if someone wants to hurt us today?" How can we ever truly feel safe? I know that I keep very close relationships with my family members. I'll always say "I love you" because it's always in the back of my mind, "what if?"
Yet, the good that came out of the tragedy, is that I appreciate more than I would have, when people do come together. Something like a parade that goes smoothly, or everyone standing during The National Anthem at a high school basketball game. That connection makes me feel like, despite threats from other countries or the diminishing faith in our government, that our country is still strong. We all have something in common because we are survivors of an attack on our nation. That attack did not break our country.
I have never really felt like I could do anything useful on 9/11. But maybe this piece can help others come to terms with whatever uneasiness they have about this upcoming anniversary, or encourage them to talk to each other, read other stories or write down their own emotions. I've realized that it is OK if 9/11 means something different to all of us, and that if I can share my experiences, it can be my way of helping others.