On Sept. 11, 2001, the world we all knew was heinously and irrevocably changed. If this statement sounds cliché, it is only because of its truth.
Everyone who is old enough to remember that day has his or her own story about experiencing the tragic day that scarred the consciousness of a nation.
I remember that I was in third grade at a Florida elementary school, taking a spelling test, when we had an unscheduled fire drill. I remember my teachers looking worried. And I remember us all lined up in front of our school, uninformed and unconcerned when parents, including mine, checked every student out, one-by-one.
When I got home, my mom told me that “bad guys” had flown two airplanes into the Twin Towers in New York City. Then another plane flew into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. America was under attack.
As my family and I sat watching the news as – they, horrified; me, playing with Legos – we watched people jump out of the buildings, flames and papers flying, dust everywhere. Then those iconic buildings in New York, those symbols of American power and freedom, collapsed. Thousands were killed.
School was canceled the next day. My parents didn’t go to work. We all suddenly had an unwelcomed vacation during which all we could do was watch the replays of that day, listen to the stories of tragedy and horror – but also of heroism, of men and women who risked and sometimes lost their own lives trying to save others.
Our once-invincible home was suddenly humbled, shocked into reticent stillness. It was like a second Pearl Harbor. A nation mourned and prayed.
President George W. Bush said that “our nation saw evil,” and that these acts of terror would be avenged with the weight of the entire country behind it. Sales of American flags soared.
It has been 12 years since the events of Sept. 11, 2011, and even with Osama Bin Laden – the former leader of al-Qaida – dead, we’re still in the process of healing as a nation. Our way of life was changed forever. One can never get on a plane again without having an involuntary moment of fear, of thinking, “What if I’m going to be next?”
That moment of anxiety will never go away for anyone my age or older. Some sociologists even refer to mine as the “9/11 Generation.”
Ever since that September morning, we have lived in a state of reflexive caution and distrust. We have been prejudiced against Arab and Muslim people; we permitted our government to imprison and torture suspects without due process; we lost thousands of young men and women fighting unwinnable wars overseas. And we did all this in the name of national security.
Standing in long lines at airport security checkpoints is one thing, but compromising our principles of human and civil rights is something else entirely. I think we should remember, but I don’t think we should remain in fear forever. And I don’t believe we will.
I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person, but there’s one day every year in September on which I find myself sitting in the back of some house of worship. More than anything, I go just to think, to reflect.
I’ll never forget that horrible day, but I’ll also never forget what it means to be an American. So my hope for this solemn anniversary is that we all take a moment to remember our past, hope for our future and live in our present to understand what it means to be an American.
Welch is a junior majoring in political science.