The Financial District is on lockdown this morning, as one would expect on the anniversary of any act of war that attracts thousands to pay their respects where their loved ones died. A lot of my friends in the city have been posting their reflections of the day online, and some of my older friends know people who were killed. I don’t have a tremendous amount to contribute in terms of anecdotes and I would have to be a drama queen to somehow make it sound as if my experience constituted the same pains as any relative of someone who died in that building. I’m not reminded of 9/11 when I look at old family pictures, and that’s something for which I am tremendously thankful. However, I do have a story to tell that is similar to many of kids in my generation and I think is worth posting:
I was eleven years old on September 11, 2001. It was the first Tuesday of the school year and I remember thinking that it was a particularly gorgeous day. I remember hearing about the attacks from friends in my middle school and flatly denying their claims. It wasn’t until about 12 PM that a teacher acknowledged what had happened and I started to panic. My grandfather and several of my uncles work downtown in the Financial District. If a building fell, had it hit their workplaces? It was certainly likely; they did work only a quarter-mile away on Pearl St. Where was my father, a contractor in NY, working that day? What happened to Steven’s mother? I knew she worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. The afternoon that ensued was hellish as I spent it wondering if anyone I knew had died.
It was less pressing for me to figure out why the attacks had happened, which I suppose is the only difference between my experience on 9/11 and that of anyone who doesn’t have a familial connection to lower Manhattan. Though, ten years after the fact, I remember 9/11 less as a day of fear and more as a bookmark in my personal history.
I don’t remember being conscious of much that was going on politically in the first half of my life. I have my personal memories, like my trips to Ireland, the beach, soccer practice, my fifth grade production of ‘Oliver!’, etc. but I really only remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal as a national political event that made me wonder what was going on outside of elementary school. After 9/11, I started to read the newspaper (The New York Post, though I later turned to The Wall Street Journal) and I remember caring a lot about killing bin Laden as that would somehow quench my thirst for justice, or reverse 9/11’s events.
I paint the 90s as a time of safety and security, a glossy Eden filled with soccer games and free trade agreements. The 2000s, though, have been pretty crappy: war, the awkwardness of puberty, financial crises and recoveries, the 2008 election, applying to college, etc. I think a lot of my friends in my generation remember 9/11 as the marker between two worlds in the same way, and we hate it for it. A lot of these things would have happened regardless of if the Twin Towers had fallen (I was bound to pay taxes at some point…), but causation and correlation are a messy business.
And so, I think my generation has a particular distain for 9/11 as robbing them of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly been challenged anyway. I know I have.
I apologize for the self-centered post, but I can’t write about much else. After all, I can’t fathom the terror the victims of 9/11 endured as they knew they were going to die, and I can’t really write about the national discussion that ensued since I didn’t really understand it. I can, however, write how I seemed to an eleven year old who lived twenty minutes away.