9/11: Ten years gone

Everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001.  I was 11 years old, and from my sixth-grade classroom 150 miles north of New York City I watched the World Trade Center burn. Then it was unfathomable to understand how anyone could have such wanton disregard for human life. Then it was hard to understand why my English teacher was crying. Now, it is not much easier to understand why the attacks occurred. A hatred of America. Why? Our troops in the Middle East, our support for Israel. Why? Any attempt to rationalize or make sense of what is so clearly incomprehensible is futile. For all of us born in the months and years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, this has become the most significant event in our lifetime – just as our parents and grandparents can instantly recall the day JFK was killed. College-aged students are among the last people who can remember living before 9/11, before every time a plane crashes or you see an unattended duffle bag in a train station you for a split second wonder if it is terrorism, recalling the images of the second commercial airliner crashing into the south tower that was played over and over again. We came of age in a post-9/11 world, saturated with the idea that the world is a little less safe than it used to be, and permanently so. We grew up in an age of threat levels and increased security and “see something, say something.” For the majority of our lives now, America has been engaged in war. Since that crisp fall day 10 years ago, by our own efforts or by sheer luck, or a combination of both, America hasn’t been attacked. But other places have not been so lucky.London. Madrid. Mumbai. Bali, twice. And America has seen disturbing near misses – the Christmas underwear bomber, the idling SUV in Times Square. The killing of Osama bin Laden in May brought some closure; it was a moment of national pride – that “we got ‘em” moment. But it did not bring justice to the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day. It is a wound that has by no means healed. The memorial service in Manhattan Sunday morning, commemorating the events 10 years prior as they unfolded, was just as raw and as heartbreaking to watch as the first anniversary. It was, as many of the speakers noted, wonderful to see so many students and community members attend the candlelight vigil Sunday, and a welcome surprise that Gov. Shumlin attended. It was moving to hear the personal stories of students Julian Golfarini and Aliza Lederer-Plaskett, native New Yorkers who were in Manhattan that day. The attacks on September 11 changed the course of our lives as Americans. Many reading this column came of age amid the social and political fallout of 9/11, in a country still unsure of where it is headed. Like the rubble that smoldered for months at Ground Zero, the grief and trauma of that day will not subside quickly. On this 10th anniversary, we must not only remember those who perished. We must also look at this anniversary to consider how far, or not, we have come in the decade.