On September 11th, 2001, I was in eighth grade. When we were first told that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, it was nearly the end of the period. We watched the first images on TV, and then I went to gym class. I hugged my best friend and told her the news, because she hadn't heard yet. Later, my dad picked me up from school and took me home. As we went to pick up my brother, smart mouthed little me speculated aloud that perhaps it was a disgruntled American that had done it, because I thought there were people in our country who were really angry enough to do it, perhaps remembering McVeigh, Waco, and the Republic of Texas hostage-taking.
Later, I heard a bomb threat had been called in to my school. There was no bomb, of course. And I remembered that a close friend of mine in elementary school had moved to New York, where one of her parents worked for the Associated Press. I called her but couldn't get through. I don't really remember what else I did that day. I don't even really remember being sad. More shocked. Later, perhaps, as the saga went on, I would start to feel sad. My next door neighbor, a hazmat firefighter, soon packed his bags and went to NYC to help rescue people.
A couple years later, I myself would go to NYC, and stay right across the street from Ground Zero, then still a gaping hole in the ground. The buildings around it were still damaged and under what passed for repair.
As a teenager growing up after 9/11, I became very jaded. We went into Afghanistan and didn't find the people who killed our countrymen. The country went into a war that, while aimed at a very terrible despot, had nothing to do with 9/11, but rather appeared to be the continuation of a saga that I did not remember. I felt trapped by a government that did not represent me, and responded angrily in words. My sense that I lived under the sway of tyrants corporate and political engendered in me a strong desire for social justice and change. I got the idea in my head that if I could just put words the right way, people would have to listen. Even after years of anger and disappointment, I never stopped thinking that someday, I would get my chance to make a difference.
Yesterday, May 1, 2011, when I heard the news via the rumor mill, I sat on my porch, smoked a cheap cigar and drank my best tequila and Benedictine while I listened to our President tell us that Usama bin Ladin had been killed by an American specops team, and thanked our military and intelligence personnel. It seemed like an impossible dream. I'd fantasized about the day we'd catch bin Ladin. I'd even dreamed about how I might be able to contribute, somehow. What a coup that'd be, I thought. How sweet the day. And how sweet it was.
9/11 and Usama bin Ladin helped make me, and much of the rest of America, who I am, for better or for worse. Since 2001, I have been intrigued by the ideology of terrorism, and concerned that in battling such a shadowy foe, we might hand them the victory by becoming exactly what they wanted us to be. And perhaps in some ways we have. We have struggled constantly with our desire for vengeance and our need to protect our own civil rights. Now that we have sated our appetite for revenge, let us turn our strength to repairing the damage in our own souls.