I was a senior in college when the planes hit the Towers. It was bizarre that I didn’t actually find out until about lunchtime. I had gotten up before all of my roommates for an early class. I didn’t turn on the tv to check the weather, as I was usually prone to doing. None of my professors mentioned anything in class. I don’t know if they were unaware as well, or if they were simply trying to act like everything was normal. I didn’t have any particular friends in my two Tuesday morning classes, so I wasn’t really talking to anyone. But there was this strange buzz around campus. I didn’t know what it was, but you could feel something was going on.
I remember getting in the elevator for my last class of the morning and overhearing a conversation about someone’s friend in New York and whether is was a good idea to be in an elevator. It struck me as odd, until I got home a few hours later. All of my roommates were sitting around the tv (a pretty remarkable feat in and of itself for a Tuesday afternoon). That was the first time I saw the Towers fall. It was like a punch to the stomach. I would see it, as would the rest of America, on a continuous loop for the next few days. After that first week, I swore I would never watch that footage again.
I had the strangest reaction to it. Watching the survivors stumble out of the rubble, dust-covered, blank-eyed, moving north, north, north, away from the scene, I was struck by how much it looked like a scene out of one of my beloved disaster movies. Hollywood was much more accurate than they ever imagined. I think I was in a little bit of shock.
But I was a child of the 80’s. I had no experience whatsoever with national strife. We had had it pretty easy until then. My grandparents were the Greatest Generation. They endured depressions and presidents dying and real evil in European mad men. My parents grew up in the cynicism of Vietnam and Watergate. Their generation learned to distrust their government. People my age – we didn’t have wars. We didn’t have huge scandals or necessary sacrifice. 9/11 changed everything.
My generation has now fought two wars, including the longest running one in our nation’s history. We are insanely more skeptical of our government than our parents before us. We have faced real evil in fanatical mad men and endured recessions and lived through untrustworthy leaders. We are the Generation Who Will Never Forget.
I didn’t actually lose anyone or anything tangible on September 11th. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for the people who did. The 9/11 widows and widowers. Firefighters. New Yorkers. Their experience is personal. But in a way, I think every American carries that hole in lower Manhattan somewhere inside of them. We are a nation of PSTD survivors, all grieving and healing and moving on in our own way.
For my part, this anniversary just makes me so goddamn sad. It seems forever ago, and like it was just yesterday. You heal, but that hole is still there, like the phantom pain of an amputated limb.
It is my hope that while my generation never forgets, we also learn to forgive. I can’t bear the thought that our legacy from this would be vengeance and hate. You cannot replace what has been taken, you can only take what cannot be replaced. And that honors no one.
Ten years later, the struggle remains. Forgiveness in the face of unthinkable atrocities. Peace from the ashes of mayhem and rage. Grace upon that hallowed ground.