Tragedies are such a strange thing… in the process of tearing us down, they also have this weird way of bringing society together. I guess it’s the rebuilding and recovery process. We realize that we can’t always do everything alone; sometimes we need help, and that’s okay!
September 11th, 2001 was a tragedy that defined my generation–it was our “history in the making.” I know it affected our parents as well, but for the children, teenagers and young adults in 2001, it was really the first time our nation came under attack. For many of us, I think it instilled a new sense of patriotism, pride, vulnerability and realism. It was one of those days where you go to bed knowing your life is never going to be exactly the same; you may not know how it’s going to be different, but you know it won’t ever be the same.
I was in my first period ninth-grade English class when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers. We weren’t told anything about it at that point though. I actually heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center from an upperclassmen on my way to second period German. Being back in the stone age (a.k.a. before you could access the internet on your cell phone–actually before I even had a cell phone!), I spent second period trying to figure out what the heck was the World Trade Center. Hey, I was 15 and had never been to New York City–plus as a ninth-grader we were still focused on Ancient Babylonian history, we hadn’t reached the 1993 WTC bombing yet! By third period Music Appreciation class, I finally had a teacher who realized the importance of the day and decided to keep the television on. Actually, they decided to keep the tv on in the band room and the tv off in the adjoining chorus room–students could choose where they wanted to be. I have no idea if anyone even went in the chorus room; I was glued to the tv. In fact, I gave one of my friends my $1.20 to bring me back my daily lunch–a bottle of water and bag of chips–while I continued to watch the coverage. I think I was one of maybe five kids to skip lunch that day in a class of sixty-plus. I had History class during our fourth and final period of the day. You would think that teacher would have turned on the coverage, no problem. Not so. I can’t remember that lady’s name for the life of me, I just remember that she was somehow Jewish and Catholic at the same time (still can’t figure that one out), and that she needed a bunch of 14- and 15-year-olds to explain to her why the terrorist attacks of September 11th would change our lives forever. Seriously, where on Earth did they find her?
10 years later, I’ve been just as glued to the television today (technically yesterday) as I was in 2001. The stories that people have about loved ones that they lost, survivors tales of trying to move past the tragedy, stories of first responders searching for people to help, and the recounts of chilling voicemails left in those final moments–there really are no words to describe all of that. I can not even fathom the terror that must have been felt throughout the cities under attack that morning. Sitting in the middle of rural, central Pennsylvania, I remember many students being worried that we were next–everything that happened that day seemed so bizarre, that we just really didn’t know.
One thing that I’ve heard people say regarding the 10th Anniversary of Sept. 11th, is that they’re sad/disappointed that the sense of unity that we had in the hours, days and weeks after the attacks has diminished over the years. The way that everyone comes together really is a strange phenomena, but I think it helps everyone heal; and sometimes realizing that has changed, especially on the anniversary of the tragedy, can make it a little bit more difficult.
A few years after Sept. 11th, a tornado struck my neighborhood and became a tragedy of its own. As all the neighbors came together to help each other it was clear that we would all be okay; we would help each other be okay. However, as the days and weeks went by, everyone seemed to retreat back inside their homes, slowly stopped saying hello, and it became painfully obvious that many people had forgotten what it was like to be a good neighbor. They went back to their busy lives and focused on themselves–and I’m not saying that I wasn’t guilty of the same thing. I’m just saying that it’s sad that it literally can take a tragedy for people to realize that they should be nice to each other and be there for each other.
Maybe I’ll use this as a call to action? Yes, I think I will. I dare you to do one nice thing for someone else today–listen when they need to talk, do them a favor they didn’t ask for, smile at someone you don’t know… just do something!