You can’t explain 9/11 to those who are too young to remember, not really. Because the story of 9/11 isn’t just about the tragedy of a single, horrific day.
The world on September 10, 2001 was a beautiful place to be a 19-year-old college sophomore. The Cold War was over. The Berlin Wall was down. Europe was uniting under a common currency, breaking down borders. Historical enemies were now friends.
The American economy was good. The Congress was more focused on domestic priorities than anything happening abroad. Professors talked about a golden age of opportunity. One told me that we were lucky to be graduating into a nation full of jobs. He believed the new millennium would bring prosperity akin to the post-WWII boom. Everything was about the promise of the future.
Then, on a beautiful September day, it all ended.
It’s hard to quantify what 9/11 took from us. Some Americans lost loved ones, and suffered a personal tragedy beyond description. The rest of us lost our hope, the belief that tomorrow would be better than yesterday. The feeling that the world was becoming a better, safer place. We lost a decade of our lives (or more) to war, recession, partisan bitching about budgets, and the fear of what could happen next.
It’s astonishing to think about all of the young people who can’t remember the tragedy of September 11th. But it’s even more amazing that they’ll never know the hope and promise of September 10th. Perhaps one day, they’ll know what it felt like to live in a world full of hope and promise, of green lights and sunny days.
I would very much like to know that feeling again.
Well said. This is the theme of Newsweek magazine’s 10-year 9/11 anniversary cover, in which you see a plane under a baby blue sky. The editors said this color blue and the plane and the cover itself shows “the last moment of American innocence” right before the first plane crashed. Everything shifted seismically after the attacks, and it’s hard to explain how everything changed.
This was really beautiful, Belle. You captured a lot my feelings in a way I couldn’t articulate myself. Thanks for posting this.
We’ll feel that way again. Our nation wasn’t innocent prior to that fateful day. Our parents felt they were under constant threat from the Soviets. Our grandparents and great grandparents lived through the Great Depression and World Wars, and yet we still have moments in time where we feel we are free. We’ll get there again. Even in 2001, our economy was in a recession thanks to the dot com bubble, but our perspective changes with time.
I sure do hope so Anna, but I am not optimistic. The world has become so much smaller and more connected that now at every moment, there is some suffering, some injustice, some evil going on that you can almost viscerally feel from thousands of miles away. I read about Syrian children dying and the next moment I am holding my son and sobbing. I hear about another horrific rape in India and I feel numb for hours afterward. I see another FB post about a black kid being killed and I worry about my kids when they go out to play. Our parents and grandparents lived through a lot, probably a lot more, but I worry about whether our generation can ever recapture its feeling of innocence. I agree with Belle – I would very much like to know that feeling again.
I don’t disagree. I remember distinctly a conversation with some of my neighborhood friends when I was maybe 10 or 12 years old (so mid-90s) talking about how cool it was that we didn’t have to deal with wars. I’d love to go back there too. I hope that eventually with greater connectedness comes greater compassion, appreciation, love for our fellow man.
I was in 7th grade that year in northern VA. We didn’t watch it on TV, like so many kids in schools across the country did, because it would have caused mass panic. I remember the hope and promise of September 10, I remember feeling safe in our little suburb. And I remember the crushing “everything is okay” of careening too close to the edge of catastrophe. It took a long time for me to be truly aware of how much had really shifted – everyone I knew shifted the same way my family did. We all had similar experiences, had all come equally close. It never occurred to me that others my age could have grown up in a post-9/11 world and not have it be real.
The whole world changed that day. Not just here in the US. May we never forget. Ever.
Very, very beautifully written. Thank you.
Beautifully said. I remember that the top story that day before the planes hit was the fact that Michael Jordan was retiring. The news was not hard to watch. We were optimistic.
And I would love know that feeling again too.
Anna H says:
Such an emotional text, absolutely beautifully written Belle! I myself was 17 at the time and can’t even imagine what life would be like now if it hadn’t happened. Our generation is a rather cynical one in my opinion, but under these circumstances, who could blame us?
My thoughts go out to all of those who lost a loved one and today I feel extra blessed for the people I have in my life. Today might be a good day to reach out to them and tell them what they mean.
Caryn Steinman says:
Beautifully stated. #NeverForget
Beautiful, Belle. That is exactly how I remember those carefree days prior to 9/11. The world will never be as it was then. I mourn for that world.
You put it into words I could never find.
I also was a 19-year old college sophomore when 9/11 hit, and this is exactly how I felt but couldn’t put into words. Thanks for this.