Sometimes I wish I could forget 9/11 and all that it symbolizes, but every time I hear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” every time I see an American flag, and every time I see One World Trade Center, all those memories and emotions and fears flood back and I can’t help but cry. And trust me, crying every time I hear the national anthem can get awkward. Walking to my friend’s place for dinner and showing up with tears in my eyes because there’s a giant American flag opposite her building … that’s awkward. Sitting in a movie theater and having my friend grab my hand because I’m bawling during a preview for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close … that’s awkward. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change it, because 9/11 defined a generation, defined my generation.
While at college in Texas, there was one 9/11 when a group of protestors had a large “Bush Engineered 9/11” or some-sort sign on the steps to the tower. The sun had already set, I had a long day of school, and was exhausted from thinking of 9/11. For those not familiar with the University of Texas campus, there’s a plaza area in front of the steps. I saw them from a ways off, but I had to walk through the plaza and pass right by the steps to get to the dorms. I saw them and started crying. Ugly, angry crying. And I kept walking, at my normal pace, through that plaza—lots of people milling about and such—while angry, exhausted, and crying.
The first time I encountered such people was actually during my first trip to New York as a semi-adult. In high school I did a pre-college program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and during one trip out with roommates, we went to some area with a plaza (I can’t remember where) and there were protestors with a “Bush Engineered 9/11” sign. I had split up with my friends and was wandering about looking for them when I saw the protestors. And I just couldn’t move. In Ohio you never saw such things. We had heard about them on the news, but it never really occurred to me that such people actually, truly existed. That they would actually say such things (and loudly), especially within the city that had experienced it firsthand. I was just appalled and upset and absolutely flabbergasted. So I was standing there, silently watching these people rant and scream, all while tears are streaming down my face and I’m lost and confused and completely out of my element. I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, but I remember that moment almost as vividly as I remember 9/11 itself.
9/11 made me realize that there was evil and sadness and hatred in the world. That day in New York made me realize that it was everywhere. And within everyone.
In seventh grade, I had a teacher who told me I lived a charmed life. We had read a story and she was asking people what they would do if they suddenly received a large sum of money. Most other people said material things—cars, houses, et cetera—but I said I’d invest it. She smiled and said I lived a charmed life. She probably didn’t mean anything by it, but looking back, I realize that I did live a charmed life. Back then, pre-9/11, life was charmed. It was innocent. And with 9/11, that changed. For everyone. And so, as much as I wish I could forget 9/11 and go back to that innocent state when I didn’t care about so much, when I didn’t cry so much when seeing the American flag, that day is part of me. Forever.