September 11 and the loss of innocence

I don’t know anyone who perished during the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.

My parents didn’t work in the twin towers, nor did anyone in my family. I didn’t have friends whose parents worked at the World Trade Center, either. I can only vaguely remember horror stories from classmates in the days after—of friends or neighbors who died, or of those who lived, simply because they had an eerie feeling about that morning and chose to call in sick.

I am one of the lucky ones. Everyone remembers—some all too clearly and unfortunately—where they were when they first heard the news of the attacks. We all remember calling loved ones and making sure they were safe. We remember talking about it the next day, and the day after, and in the weeks that followed as America caught its breath and began to heal. Each of us, of different ages, religions, and political ideologies, will forever be bonded by the events of that day. It is our Pearl Harbor. It is our Kennedy assassination.

But as I reflect on that day, 10 years later, I realize that what exactly happened, down to the most specific detail, isn’t all that important. What I recall, instead, is that September 11, 2001 is the day my generation lost its innocence. It is the day we turned on the television and saw the worst the world could possibly be. We turned on CNN and saw buildings burning to the ground, and realized we weren’t as safe as we thought—and would never be as safe, again.

But I didn’t lose my innocence that day because I saw people die on live television. I didn’t even though that night I dreamt about bombs and armies and war—and have ever since.

I lost my innocence that morning because the explicit details of that morning don’t mean as much to me as the feelings the day left me with—feelings that, to this day, linger.

I know I was in my sixth grade English class when I found out. Fifth period. Ten years old. I don’t remember who I sat next to, or what the day’s lesson was. I remember a bell ringing and nobody knowing why. It rang once and the principal came on the loudspeaker. And he only spoke over the loudspeaker during morning and afternoon announcements.

“May I have your attention please,” I remember him saying, “At around 9 o’clock this morning, the World Trade Center in New York City
was attacked by two hijacked airplanes. A third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another went down in Pennsylvania.”

What I don’t remember, exactly, is what happened next. I don’t know how I reacted, whether anyone started talking, or if my principal said anything else. I think I went to my locker and went home. I may have gone to my locker and then back to class, instead. At times, I remember my entire class sitting in silence, tears filling my teacher’s eyes. In the many times I’ve flashed back to the events of that day, I remember all of these things. Sometimes, I remember none of these things, and different things taking place instead.

To me, these details don’t really matter. The only one that bears any significance to me is that when I went home that day, I watched CNN for the first time in my young life with my parents—and I cried.

I didn’t cry out of mourning, or out of reverence and respect for the departed. I didn’t cry because football would surely be cancelled. I cried
because I understood, even at 10 years old, that innocent people were killed for no other reason than others wanting to see them die—and I wanted those
men dead for the exact same reason.

I didn’t want them captured, rounded up like some villain in a Superman comic book. I didn’t want Scooby and the gang to have a hearty laugh about
it as the pundits were arrested and the end credits rolled. I wanted men to die to justify the deaths of others.

I cried out of anger and hatred for men I would never personally know. To this day, it is one of the most haunting memories of my childhood.

We all have moments in life that shape who we become as people, that irrevocably change our values and outlook on the world. This one shaped mine. It reminded me that for all the good that exists out there in the world, there is just as much evil lurking nearby. I cried, because for the first time in my life, a fight for retribution actually meant something to me.

Some may say that because of this, the terrorists behind the plot won. I’d disagree. If anything, attacking the World Trade Center was the worst thing they could do. By flying planes into towers, by taking lives and
ruining families, they made me just a little more cautious, a little more wary, a little more aware, a little less child-like.

They took the wool away from my eyes. They taught me that peace and freedom are not to be taken for granted—that they are, in fact, worth defending.