It’s hard to process anything when you’re 11. This was an age where my most pressing concern was reading the most books so I could win a contest at school. You don’t focus on tragedy in elementary school, so loss felt abstract. I learned about wars and pain, but it never felt real.
Fourteen years ago, I attended the special class of the day and chattered excitedly with friends about my trip to Pittsburgh for my Build-a-Bear birthday party. It was Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, and I had turned 11. As a child, turning the age of your actual date of birth is a very exciting thing. I had no reason to believe the day wouldn’t be as amazing as imagined.
When I made it back to the classroom, I could tell something was very off. The television was showing the news and discussing some sort of attack on the World Trade Center. My teacher watched nervously before making and taking many phone calls. Unconcerned, I went to the computers to play a game of Oregon Trail.
At one point while the news continued to show the same footage over and over again, I was called to the phone. It was my mother, explaining my party had to be cancelled but we would still celebrate at home. My excitement waned slightly but she promised the trip would be rescheduled.
These our photos with the to-be-mentioned cupcakes and pizza. We really loved Bring It On.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized something terrible had happened. Determined to make the day special for me, my mom planned cupcakes and Chef Boyardee pizza. My friends and I decided to turn on the TV and again the news showed the planes hitting these buildings and slowly my child-brain began to piece things together. The graphic flashed the words ‘Twin Towers’ and I suddenly realized the gravity of the situation. Even at 11, I knew the Twin Towers were a major part of the New York skyline. Just as awareness began to dawn, my mom arrived and swiftly turned off the news, putting my new Bring It On VHS in instead.
We discuss 9/11 under the idea of ‘Never Forget.’ We pledge to remember what happened more than a decade ago. A few hours changed our history as a country. Suddenly threats only imagined became real and fear ran rampant. As the years progressed, life continued to go on with stricter regulations and the knowledge that we are not as safe as we think.
For the first few years after, I couldn’t tell someone my birthday without receiving this look of pity and acknowledgement. Some even apologized, which even as a child I recognized as laughable. My ‘struggle’ of sharing a birthday with a national tragedy is nothing compared to those who lost someone that day or in the aftermath.
Rarely did the day feel as light as you think a birthday should. There was a weight behind September 11. It was no longer just a day when many others and I were born. It felt odd to wake up and be excited for a day that so many had come to dread.
As time went on, I began to notice a curious phenomenon. We, as a country, continued to move on. Don’t get me wrong; it’s essential to move past something and grow, but less and less people talked about the day. Less people gave me the look when learning it was my birthday. Every year, I notice less attention on social media. Brands continue to publish as usual with maybe an obligatory #NeverForget tweet, but other than that it’s business as usual.
Now we (myself included) use that sentiment ironically. We make jokes about the day and while I’m sure we don’t mean it to be offensive, it makes light of something terrible that happened to our country and thousands of families. Can you imagine doing anything like this a few years ago?
I certainly don’t think we’ve forgotten as a nation, but I do think the weight is lifting. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it’s part of the healing process to continue as usual without thinking about the senseless acts that killed thousands of civilians. We don’t want to think about the heroes established and widows made as the Towers began to fall. It’s a part of our past and while we won’t forget, we’re certainly not going to remember in excruciating detail.
Maybe the fact that we do go on is the exact proof that we weren’t broken, only shaken. That the terrorists didn’t win.
It’s easy to remember when things are fresh and for many, 14 years isn’t that long. Clearly so many of us still recall in specific details what happened that fateful morning. My worry is someday we will remember less as younger generations can’t remember at all.
History is fascinating to me, especially World War II. There was a time in my life where I studied Pearl Harbor with an insatiable curiosity. 2,403 Americans were killed with more than 1,100 wounded. It brought us into World War II. FDR proclaimed it “a date which will live in infamy.”
How often do we take time on Dec. 7 to remember Pearl Harbor and all the men and women who lost their lives?
We can examine the differences, primarily the concept of mostly civilians to mostly military personnel, but both were acts of war against people not ready for the fight. Both surprised our country and made us realize we’re not as impenetrable as we like to think.
Whatever the consensus is, I hope we always remember this day in some capacity. Despite the nickname of ‘cursed baby’ from my peers, I view sharing today as a gift because it will always be with me, reminding me not of tragedy but of the strength and bravery of my fellow Americans.
[I wanted to end on a note that made me sound like the president. Booyah.]