I drove past a college campus today, and couldn’t help but remember where I was 12 years ago today. I was just a couple weeks into my freshman year of college, getting ready to go to class with my roommate, when I heard the DJ on a local rock station announce in a somewhat unsure voice that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.
Like most of you, this event shook me and changed me and still brings me great sorrow 12 years later.
Since the event is interwoven into the fiber of my freshman year, I couldn’t help but wonder today, when I saw backpack-wearing teenagers on their way to class, if they were remembering what happened 12 years ago. Do those college freshmen remember?
They were 6 when it happened. My daughter is almost 6, and I know she would grasp only a tiny portion of something like 9/11. I am certain those freshmen pause at the memorials, notice the headlines online, and understand what the flags are for. But remember? Probably not a whole lot.
I suddenly felt panicky — will we all stop remembering as the generations age?
I didn’t and still don’t know a soul who lost somebody that day. And even though I was thousands of miles away from New York City, it was still so close to home. It was my country, my people, my security, and my way of life that were forever changed. And its effects still linger. I remember when President Bush announced we were going to war, and I hoped my family wouldn’t be a part of it. Now my brother, who was 12 on 9/11, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
I know my generation feels the same as I do — forever changed — and I know the generations older than my generation feel the same. It is something we will never stop mourning.
But still, I wonder how long the memorials will last. When will the younger generations grow tired of hearing our “I was here when it happened” stories? When will it not mean anything anymore — when will the greater population have no memory or personal connection to my generation’s greatest tragedy?
I wonder if this is how our grandparents’ generation feels about us on the anniversary of the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Roosevelt said it was “a date which will live in infamy.” Yet December 7 comes and goes each year, and do we mourn as a nation? Do we remember, or is it simply a bit of trivia we sometimes recognize?
I felt so sad to think that one day 9/11 will go the way of December 7, 1941. Those people who died certainly don’t deserve to be forgotten.
But then I wondered, as I always wonder — do the people of the Middle East think we are spoiled that we remember one day, just one, when we were attacked? People who regularly lose loved ones to the hands of foreign enemies — can they fathom our mourning for the one time that happened to us?
I don’t mean to diminish the loss our country suffered or the hurt people are still experiencing one bit. But suddenly, even with that tragedy 12 years ago that still brings me to tears, I felt incredibly blessed.
Our country has seen many horrible tragedies since 9/11, but being attacked by outside forces is not one of them. We do not live in fear of missiles blowing up our neighborhoods or our schools. And when I sought to find a comparison to the way I was feeling about the generations growing up since 9/11, I had to reach all the way back to Pearl Harbor — 1941. Not to last week, last month, or last year, as those in the Middle East are familiar with.
I will never forget 9/11/2001, and neither will you. When the memorials start to slip away, I will be heartbroken, but I will also be at peace — because that will mean my children will be fortunate enough to be growing up knowing only the “ancient” details of the last time our country was turned upside-down. That is my hope.