It’s the day after the 17th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Everyone remembers where they were when the attacks occurred and how they watched it unfold.
The day recalls feelings of helplessness, fear, and anguish. It also saw incredible heroism. But I’ve been thinking about something else: Do you remember how you felt on the day after?
The day prior, I walked into a class where my history teacher was sitting on his desk, looking up at the screen in the corner. There would be no lecture, no discussion. The other seniors and I watched history unfold live on television.
Many more across America recounted a similar tale. Others saw that terrible day raw and unfiltered on the streets of New York City or looking out a window at a smoldering view of Manhattan from nearby. The attacks were meant to kill and maim, and they were successful. They were also meant to divide and strike fear into the hearts of Americans, who Osama bin Laden thought of as nothing more than “paper tigers.”
But that’s not what happened. On the day after, I woke up and walked to class as I normally did. My mom and dad went to work. Millions of Americans went about their lives as normal, determined to not live in fear as the terrorists wanted us to be. Some scoured the wreckage of Ground Zero, searching for survivors.
There were no liberal or conservative Americans on that day. We were simply Americans.
In the halls of my high school, you could see students saying hello to peers they ignored in the past. Some rushed out to donate blood. On the streets of New York, people looked up at passersby instead of avoiding eye contact. On the day after, we were united.
Do you remember?
We are so far from that day it’s hard to imagine it now. Our country has endured 17 years of war with no end in sight. We toppled the Taliban and an Iraqi dictator; exported freedom and democracy to so many. But we’ve sadly realized it’s much harder to implement than we thought.
We have gone to war twice since then, in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the powers granted the president to conduct battle against al Qaeda and associated forces, we have gone to war in many more places since. We have seen so many American lives cut short on the field of battle; others grievously wounded. We’ve endured nasty political campaigns, recessions, and other shocks to the system.
We’ve gone from having shared empathy to having polite disagreements to labeling our fellow Americans evil for their different views. We block and report each other on social media because of who they vote for. We label people traitors for protesting injustice. We’ve gone from rejecting fear on 9/12 to embracing it.
We have forgotten the day after.
Will we ever go back to that place? Will we ever cut through our deep divisions and come together like we did back then? I don’t know.
We continue to remember 9/11 and promise to never forget.
Maybe we will get back some sense of unity, if we could also vow to never forget 9/12.