9/11 and Me - By Greer Clem

Each American has their own story for where they were that day, all of them weaving together to create a national memory that will never fade. I was in my pjs and bounced into my parents room hoping to watch a few minutes of cartoons before school. My mom sat at the end of her bed in front of the tv, her hands clasped over her mouth and tears running down her face. I was only five, my sixth birthday coming up the next week, but I felt the gravity of something much bigger than ordinary sadness. My dad came and picked me up and said I wasn't going to school that day. My mom lit a prayer candle - something I had never seen her do before. I asked them what had happened and they bravely and lovingly tried to explain something they themselves and humanity at large could not fully understand.  

I have been asking what happened, what motivated people to commit such atrocities, why people were so angry, almost every day since September 11, 2001. For me, that day in large part sculpted what I care about and who I am, as it has for so many. It was the first time I became aware of politics, listening to the radio with my parents in the car, hearing teachers discuss Bush's response as I passed in the hallway. It was the first time I became aware of cultural differences, previously having that blissful ignorance that belongs only to children. And as I grew up, the significance of that day took greater shape. I have friends who lost parents and loved ones. One of my dearest family friends worked in one of the towers and was, thank god, late to work that day because his daughters were running behind.  

Several months after the attack, my mom and I went to New York, the city she still calls home. We went with our friend who so narrowly missed being in one of the buildings to the site where those two towers had stood. The sprinklers were still going, still trying to dampen some of the horror that had taken place. Buildings nearby were marked with an orange X, signifying that they had been checked by firefighters. It was dusk as I stood with my mom and our friend and surveyed the rubble before me, trying to understand.  

For my generation, 9.11 is the single greatest determining factor for our conception of history, politics, and the future. For me, that day was the beginning of a quest to understand the history of my country and why it was the target of such hate. It was the genesis of my interest in the role America plays on the global stage. It has influenced what classes I took, what career goals I have, and what dreams I hope to achieve. Most importantly, it has always served as a reminder that we are all people - we can poke and prod and research and discuss until we are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, we are all human and we need to come to a human understanding.

In 2017, that reminder is especially significant. We are facing divisiveness within our nation that threatens the fabric of who we are. Perhaps the memory of a day when parties didn't matter, when all that mattered was that we were all citizens under the same flag will serve to push us towards a greater understanding of each other and the world around us. I will end with part of the speech Obama delivered last year on the 15th anniversary of these attacks, for he says it better than I ever could: "For we know that our diversity - our patchwork heritage - is not a weakness; it is still, and always will be, one of our greatest strengths. This is the America that was attacked  that September morning. This is the America we must remain true to." 

Greer Clem