When I was a kid, one of my ambitions was to become famous and have my birthday declared a national holiday. Not so much in the vein of Washington or Lincoln, but perhaps in the way that Theodore Geisel’s birthday is celebrated as Read Across America Day. So on that Tuesday morning ten years ago, in the midst of my dismay, I thought, “This is not what I meant at all.”
Where were you?
My older relatives tell stories about where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination or Martin Luther King, Jr’s. For a brief period of time the only vaguely similar experience I had was the news of Princess Diana’s fatal accident. I didn’t know what it felt like to live with such an indelible before and after.
My roommate Velika woke me up that morning after having taken a phone call from my husband (then my boyfriend of two years). He was on campus for his weekly ROTC muster and called to tell us to turn on the news. Velika and I were are not morning people. After she relayed the (wildly understated) message that a plane crashed in New York, we both went back to bed. It was probably at least two hours more before we were functional enough to begin to take in the scope of the tragedy.
The night before, I had been in a multicultural literature class and the professor had emphasized the importance of viewing the world from varied perspectives, especially those that clash with our own. “There are only so many stories,” she insisted, “but infinite points of view.” In our first post 9/11 class meeting, she simply stated, “The world has changed.”
Where are you now?
My husband and I have been married for eight years, parents for six. We lived on the east coast for four years. I was a teacher for three. Yet that journey seems more like a big circle than a straight road that stretches out behind me. Maybe I feel this way because my house is 7 miles due east of the apartment I was living in ten years ago. For all the experiences I’ve had in the past ten years, how much have I changed?
I just finished reading an NPR article discussing American life in the aftermath of 9/11. The article raises the same questions—has the world changed? Has American life changed?
Freelance journalist Alex Chadwick feels, “since Sept. 11, Americans are ‘more angry, more sorrowful, as though we’ve gotten about 20 years older — or even more — in a decade, but without any of the wisdom or grace that comes to some with age.’”
In many ways, I feel that I’m much the person as I was back then, for better or for worse. And it seems the same may be said of our nation. Older? Definitely. Wiser? To be determined.
Where do we go from here?
9/11 is at once distant and personal for me. My mom and her family are New Yorkers, but no one connected to us was directly affected by the tragedy. In San Diego, CA, I was about as far away from Ground Zero as I could have been while still within the continental US. Yet it is always with me.
Today is my 32nd birthday. I feel neither old nor young. Ten years from now I think I will have figured out what I want to be when I grow up and achieved a few more of my life goals.
Today, the thought of the people who died ten years ago still brings the sting of tears to my eyes. Ten years from now I hope it still does. As much as I may wonder at the unaltered aspects of American life, I would never deny the irrevocable way in which so many American lives were shattered by 9/11.
Today is Patriot Day. Ten years from now I hope I finally understand what that means. Or, at least, what being a patriot means to me. Because for the past ten years, I haven’t felt particularly patriotic when I’ve tired of the solemnity of the memorials overshadowing one of the few days of the year that I really want to celebrate. In fact, I haven’t felt particularly patriotic for much at all of the past ten years because I was one of those people who, in 2001, agreed with Arundhati Roy’s controversial post-9/11 essays “The Algebra of Infinite Justice” and “War is Peace” in which she harshly criticized my country and its government.
Still, every year the wish I make when I blow out my candles isn’t for me, but for our world. You know I can’t tell you exactly what my wish is…but if you had a birthday wish today, what would it be?