Ten years later
Ten years ago today, I woke up for what I thought would be what was, at the time, a normal day for me – classes (I was in law school) and some time at the internship I was doing. Little did I know at the time, but the world as we Americans know it was about to change.
I turned on the television and on every channel I saw the same thing – images of an airplane flying into the north tower of the “twin towers” in New York City. At the time, people were still saying that it may have been an accident.
I knew it was no accident. Something inside of me said that our time of unawareness had ended, and that we were getting a wake-up call. We, whose shores had not been invaded since we became a nation, were being attacked.
Moments later, I watched in horror, along with millions of other Americans, as an airplane struck the second tower. By now, people were starting to figure out that one airplane hitting one tower may have been an accident, but two airplanes striking two towers, well, that was not a coincidence.
I did not go to classes that day, nor to work. I was not afraid – I was transfixed. The events of the morning, and the other events that unfolded (Flight 77 striking the Pentagon, the horror of people fleeing the scene, rescue workers going in as people were running away), these were history in the making. It was one of those days where everyone over a certain age would always remember where they were when it happened (the other one in my memory was when I was 15 and a freshman in high school, waching on live television as the space shuttle Challenger exploded).
I am lucky that I was not directly affected by what happened – I did not live in New York or in Washington, D.C. I did not have friends or family in either place, which would cause me to worry about whether they were safe. I cannot imagine the panic and fear that people must have felt – those who were in the airplanes, the towers, the Pentagon, and their loved ones.
But I cannot say that this momentous event did not impact me – indeed, it impacted all of us. It made us realize that we had been somewhat arrogant for a very long time, to think that we could do whatever we want, wherever in the world we want, and that there would not be consequences. We were naive to think that no one would dare to breach our shores and stage an attack on us. It brought policy changes and safety changes that made many Americans chafe – how dare the government require us to have a passport to go to Mexico or Canada (never mind that they are actually foreign countries, even if they are our neighbors)? How dare the government require us to go through extra security measures when we want to travel? How dare these people attack innocents (never mind that we do the same across the globe)?
We have been shown that the world in which we live is not idyllic – it is, in many places, quite dangerous and difficult. In many ways, Americans suffered the ostrich syndrome – we had our heads in the sand and did not realize the consequences of our actions, nor how life is on a daily basis for people around the world. If there is one lesson to come out of what happened ten years ago, it is to realize that we are not the center of the universe, we may be a superpower, but perhaps we need to take a different perspective on what it means to be a world leader.
To be sure, the actions of the terrorists of that day were in no way justified – terrorism is never justified, no matter what the result a person wants to achieve. The question, though, is how do we fight terrorism? Do we fight weapons with weapons, continuing to escalate the problem? Do we try to fight it with diplomacy? What is the most effective way to fight hate? That is one of many questions to which I do not claim to have an answer.
In my own small way, though, I was affected, even if it took a while. I found religion. I went through many of my own challenges. Ultimately I decided that no matter what challenges I was facing, I wanted to try to help people who may face larger challenges on a daily basis, and I wanted to make a difference, even if it is a small one, in the world, in a peaceful way.
Can I say that the events of September 11, 2001 directly impacted my decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer? I cannot say that. What I can say is that the events of that day affected us all, and continue to affect us, even the new generations still being born. I can say that I want to see things improve in our world, not only for my generation and those before me, but for those who are still to come. I remain committed to trying to make the world a better place, in my own small way.
Imagine the power if we all would commit to making the world a better place. If, instead of taking for ourselves, instead of fighting, we focused on giving and building bridges across what divides us. If instead of focusing on what makes us different, and on hate, we reached out in love, focusing on what makes us all human.
Call me naive, but I believe if we want to make the world a better place, we can. We can learn from the past, commit to not repeating it, and focus on how to cooperate. Our world will never be perfect, but it does not have to be a place of pain and suffering, of hate and terror, of selfishness and greed.