Every American generation experiences a pivotal moment. Such a moment lingers in the brain, seemingly forever.
The baby–boomers have several such pivotal moments, like the assassination of JFK, the march on Washington and the moon landing to name a few. Generations X and Y had at least two pivotal moments: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the failed launch of the Challenger space shuttle.
Thus far, we only have one pivotal moment. It is, however, very significant: September 11th, 2001.
As a New Yorker, I’m especially prone to reflection on 9/11.
I remember exactly where I was on that day, as I’m sure you do.
Nine years later, having been shaped by 9/11 and its aftermath, I think it’s worth retelling my story.
My memory of that day begins, like most of the other members of the class of 2013, in a fifth–grade classroom. It was my second day in fifth-grade. It was a half–day.
However, at 9:30a.m. or so, that half–day was cut short.
“Some of you will be picked up early by your parents today,” the principal of my school calmly informed my classmates and I, “because an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center.”
With that quick-and-dirty summation of the events of the day, my perception of 9/11 began to take shape.
As far as I could tell, it was all an accident!
Like a freak car crash. Only there was an airplane and there was a building.
That’s the way my principal made it seem, at least, so I wasn’t really that upset.
After arriving home in the Bronx, my friends and I played three matches of tennis at a nearby court.
We also watched the music video to Alien Ant Farm’s cover of “Smooth Criminal.”
That was big at the time. It was weird.
It wasn’t nearly as weird, however, as the sounds and sights that punctured our playtime.
Who would think, after all, that in the Bronx we would have pitch-black fighter jets roaming the skies?
Who would think that a ten year–old, living in a nice, safe American neighborhood, would be subjected to the din of military planes?
It was a bizarre situation, and it made for a creepy day.
It seems equally bizarre that that’s what I should remember about 9/11: fun with my friends, and loud, disturbing military airplanes.
I don’t particularly remember two leviathan buildings burning to the ground.
I don’t particularly remember the absolute terror in lower Manhattan as nearly 3,000 people were sent to their graves.
No, what really affected me were the planes and the friends.
It wasn’t bizarre enough that my friends and I were enjoying a play–date accompanied by the unnerving ambiance of fighter jets; what was really bizarre is that we were having a forced play–date accompanied by the unnerving ambiance of fighter jets.
My friends were “forced” to stay in Riverdale because their parents couldn’t drive out of Manhattan. So far as I could tell, they were quarantined.
They could, however, walk out of Manhattan.
And the mom of one of my friends did just that –– she walked just under 200 blocks to be with her son. She got out of Manhattan the only way she knew how on the most terrifying day in recent American history. Just to make sure her son was safe.
That memory is etched into my brain beyond forgetting.
Much like how the pivotal moments of generations past have influenced the way those generations think, my 9/11 experience has shaped my perception of the world.
I, however, am fortunate enough to do no more than reflect on that day. As an American, I haven’t had to relive it.
With more than 3,268 innocent civilians killed or injured in 2010 (according to www.truth–out.org), thousands of Afghanis just aren’t quite lucky enough to be able to make the same claim.
That number doesn’t stand alone, however; it’s part of a gargantuan number of casualties in Afghanistan since the war, in response to 9/11, began.
It’s unfortunate: the national response to our generation’s pivotal moment has been a 9–year ‘pivotal moment’ for many Afghanis –– the longest war in our nation’s history.
And just think: the number of casualties during a tiny fraction of that war surmounts all those lost in 9/11.
Imagine the number of casualties over all 9 years. Imagine the number of innocent children exposed, frequently, to the overhead tumult of fighter jets and explosions.
Reflecting on 9/11 entails more than just reflection on one day. It entails reflection on the 9/11 decade –– of the attacks and the war that’s followed.
It entails reflection on the lessons we may and –– especially –– may not have learned.