Being born and raised in the South, it’s not uncommon for me to quote a country song. In fact, I tend to do it more often than I should (especially when I wear red high heels). This morning it’s appropriate.
Eleven years ago today, I was in sixth grade – more specifically in Mrs. Porter’s math class. My fellow classmates and I were blissfully unaware of what was going on in our country. I’m not sure if the decision was made by our principal or head of the county school system, but we went about our day as if nothing was wrong. None of us had cell phones or internet access, our news source “Channel 1” had already aired for the day, and our teachers kept quiet. It wasn’t until 2:50 that afternoon that our teachers told us what had happened. We were in our homerooms right before dismissal when someone rolled in a TV and started playing the news.
Now at 11 years old, I didn’t really comprehend what was going on. I watched the news with my parents, but I didn’t grasp that thousands of people were in the buildings that were ablaze on the screen. I didn’t understand that Washington, D.C. was practically in my backyard – in my mind, the five hours to D.C. was comparable to being on the other side of the country. I just knew that something bad happened. The thought that I should be scared never crossed my mind. I was an American; we were the greatest nation on Earth. No one could touch us.
Fast forward ten years – two major things happened that brought 9/11 back to the forefront of my mind: the killing of Osama bin Laden and the 10 year anniversary of the WTC attacks. I remember the night they killed bin Laden. I was sitting on the floor of my nearly empty apartment. My sister had moved out a week before and I was biding my time until I graduated in nine days. It seemed like everyone at my school was celebrating. Bonfires starting breaking out, chants of “USA! USA!” could be heard…I even think a window was broken in a dorm. But there I was…struggling yet again to comprehend what was happening. On one hand, I knew this was America’s 11 o’clock number. This was our big finale to a tragedy that happened not so long ago. This was the part of the movie where the superhero saves the day. On the other hand, I was having major issues with rejoicing a man’s death. Had I not been raised to be a Christian? To be forgiving and to live a life guided by love and not hate?
A few months later, I became somewhat obsessed with learning details about that horrid day. I re-watched old news reels. I found videos taken by people who were filming something completely different and just happened to have caught the first plane hitting the towers. I saw the horror on people’s faces as they watched people jump to their deaths. It was humbling and heartbreaking. At 21, I was finally feeling the pain and sorrow these terrorists wanted my country to feel. I finally understood that the world didn’t necessarily see my home as the best place on Earth. It saw arrogance and pride. It saw freedom and individuality. Things that aren’t openly embraced by most places in our world. Things that some people wanted to punish us for.
Now, eleven years later, my Facebook news feed is filled to the brim with red, white, and blue, pictures of eagles, videos of good ol’ country songs like “God Bless the USA” and “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” My Twitter timeline is full of patriotic retweets and #Remember911 hashtags. Yet there is an undeniable presence that our nation is healing (political rants aside). Life is moving on, and while most of us will always remember exactly where we were on September 11, 2001, we will not be defined by how we fell. We will be defined by how well we have risen. “Our hearts are broken, but they are beating, and they are beating stronger than ever.” – Rudolph Giuliani