The anniversary of 9/11 came and went, without much mental fanfare on my part. Of course, I remembered where I was: at school. They gathered all the students up and told us there had been an attack on the United States in New York City. I remember a student a little younger than I said, "is this for real?" and we all had been wondering the same thing. Surely, this was a drill, a test for a hypothetical attack. Was this something that could actually happen in our lifetimes? Was an attack of such magnitude really a possibility and we simply hadn't been aware?
The entire experience felt surreal, as though it was contained within the television and the newspapers. As though the reality didn't spill from beyond the pages and screens into actual human lives and deaths. To be honest, it didn't affect me very strongly. Somehow, it didn't seem anymore pertinent that all the other reports of people dying all around the world. I felt terribly guilty at the time, and wished I was more upset.
In retrospect it seems obvious that this wouldn't register to me. How could a young teenage girl raised in rural Massachusetts comprehend the gravity of such a thing? I knew nothing of New York City, and I had no American pride to speak of. I barely knew what it was to be an American. The liberties and priveliges were something I took for absolute granted.
Now, though, I understand the strength and power that New York City has over people. In apolocolytpic movies, the destruction of NYC stands for the destruction of the world. It is home to our money, our artists, our media and, at least to those that live there, our hearts. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be in the city that day. To feel that this place that is home to so many runaways who flee their small towns to find glory and love could be attacked with such virulent hatred is shocking. That the firemen and policemen that we trust to protect us could be killed and wounded in such numbers shakes me to my foundation.
But it was only on September 12th that I felt any of this. The day after felt like a more significant anniversary to me: the day we reacted. The day we began to put the pieces back together. The day we began to have hope and even faith again. This is the day that I want to remember. This is the day that I want to capture in all it's patriotic glory and hold in the faces of those who are now filled with hate and anger at all Muslims. I want to give this day as a present to them, that they might see the opportunity we had, and hopefully still have, to take this tragedy and turn it into a mirror that would reflect and shine out American values to the world. Values of freedom, and justice and liberty for all.
That we might take the hate that caused this attack and transform it, as the founding fathers transformed the oppression that drove them here into something more beautiful. To love and accept all religions, all races and all creeds in the face of hatred and violence is, to me, what it means to be American. I know that now.