September 11th, 2001 – the day of the terrorist attack that changed the United States of America forever.
Where were you on 9/11? That’s the question everyone asks. Every person alive that day remembers where they were 8:26 AM Eastern Time when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north-facing side of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
We will never forget.
At this time on September 11th, I was in California. My then-husband was in tech school in Port Hueneme just outside of LA, and my mother had called me to tell me to turn on the television. When I did so, my heart sank; I flipped it on just in time to discover a plane had hit the North Tower, and then watched as United Flight 175 hit the South Tower. Everything changed at that point. Instantly, the situation went from a tragic accident to the realization that the United States of America was under attack.
I jumped in the car and drove immediately to the naval base, where it took 2 ½ hours to get through security and onto the base that day. They searched every car that came through with mirrors and bomb-sniffing dogs. I learned that every military base was on high alert once I’d arrived, while also hearing a lot of terrifying talk about sending out troops before they’d even finished tech school. Already, we were at war. The air on base was thick and adherent with anger, fear, and excitement.
But my point in writing this isn’t about where we were when the planes hit those towers. My point in writing this is not one that explicitly relates to the number of lives that were lost (although this cannot and should not ever be forgotten or undermined), nor which politics landed us in that position in the first place, nor all of the conspiracy theories. It’s about who we were as a country on that fateful day.
My point in writing this is that September 11, 2001 is the last time I remember our country being united. Today, that makes me twice as sad.
I’d like to impress upon you, readers, a disclaimer here: I am well cognizant of the fact that a part of that unity from that day forward, came from a large, unnecessary, and xenophobic place toward the many Americans who identify as Islamic and Middle Eastern, as well as those from other areas of South Asia, such as India. Even just seventeen years ago, this was a time in which many caucasian Americans were not being held accountable for their white privilege. And although we are slowly but surely getting better about making sure that white privilege is being more carefully monitored and examined, we still have a very long way to go before it meets a necessary extinction. In no way do I condone that behavior, nor will I ever insinuate that it was right or just. But that isn’t the unity I’m placing my specifics on. The unity of which I speak is that in which neighbors checked on one another, picked up each other’s children from school, made phone calls to their friends and loved ones, held strangers as they cried in the deafeningly silent streets of Manhattan. The unity of which I speak is the compassion we showed one another — not the response from bigots and a presidential administration that targeted innocent people in countries overseas while using xenophobia to try to further unite the country. That part will always remain to be wrong.
The very thing that makes me proud to be an American is the legendary American spirit, the audacity that we have always had as a people to stand together or alone against the greatest odds. Nothing showed that American spirit more than on September 11th or in the weeks that followed. The unity, support, and compassion that we displayed toward our fellow American citizens in need that day was nothing short of inspiring.
Somehow, in the throes of the current political climate — one that daily rips further apart the left from the right, the upper from the lower class, the young and the old, the cis and the trans, the gay and the straight — we as Americans have forgotten that part. We, the People of the United States of America, have forgotten that we all play on the same team. And in that loss of cognizance, we have forgotten our neighbors, forgotten how to listen, and forgotten our common goals.
Yet we remember the tragedy. We remember the lives that were lost (as we should always). We remember the brave first responders and volunteers who died or are still dying slowly from complications that came following their insurmountably brave heroism. We remember our politicians that spoke and acted eloquently and strongly during that time, as well as the ones who could have done better in this aspect.
But we, the People, have forgotten ourselves.
Now is the time to remember. It’s time to remember who we are as Americans; to put aside our egos and our pride and remember that, as with any team, success is hollow if not all those working toward it can attain it. It is time for we as Americans to get back to our common goals — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness equally and for all.
When you remember September 11th, mourn our losses, love those who have sacrificed, and celebrate our nation’s resilience to being torn apart by a few bad people. Though it is important to bear in mind that the religion a terrorist claims to align with and the color of a terrorist’s skin does not make every person of that skin pigment or faith a terrorist. In fact, the vast majority are nothing like those terrorists. But I implore of you now, on the anniversary of one of our nation’s most tragic days, to not forget our compassion, to not forget who we are.