For 10 years, I’ve been quiet about my personal reaction to and feelings about the events of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath. But it seems fitting on today’s 10 year anniversary to let my perspective finally be heard.
Nothing in my experience of the day or my feelings as it unfolded was unique or remarkable. I was a stay-at-home mom of two young children ages 2 and 2 months who took her kids to a morning gym class and came home to news reports of tragedy. Millions of Americans saw the same scenes I saw and were glued just as voyeuristically to the horror unfolding on television as I was. It was what happened in the days, months, and years afterward that came to shape how I feel today about the events of that day.
People associate a wide variety of feelings with their personal experience of 9/11: grief, loss, fear, confusion, insecurity. Personally, I associate 9/11 with shame and anger – for my own country. If today’s ten year anniversary is about loss, and here’s what I believe we truly lost on 9/11:
* We lost over 3,000 civilian lives in a horrifically tragic way – as tragic as the millions of innocent lives which continue to be lost in horrific ways all over the world from violence, preventable disease, human cruelty to fellow humans, and wars which we ourselves are perpetrating.
* We lost our sense of fiscal responsibility, led by a President who told our citizenry that to spend money to avoid recession was their patriotic duty. Is it a surprise that we are in the economic situation we are today?
* We lost our sense of security at home, just like we lost that sense when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. We vowed we’d never forget the lessons we learned following that particular national tragedy, never repeat the mistakes made in the aftermath.
* We lost the recognition of individuality for which we were admired throughout history. We blamed an entire religion instead of a handful of radical zealots. We feared and institutionally discriminated against Americans who practiced Islam, making them feel fear in their own country and depriving them of individual liberty, just like we did to Americans of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor.
* We lost the very foundation of freedom that defines us as a nation. Instead of being MORE vigilant to protect that for which the world envied us, we gave it up for the illusion of action to create a false security which never did, never could, and never will exist.
* We lost our pride in our freedom to question those in power. We pretended unity and called it patriotism. We called traitor those who disagreed, rather like the very extremists we abhorred.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people.” Wendell Phillips, 1852
After the events of 9/11, we vowed not to let the terrorists and the extremists win, but when we allowed them to take our sense of security in ourselves, when we allowed our priceless American liberties to be eroded, we gave up our power. “We have met the enemy – and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, 1953)
“The world changed that day,” they say. But did it? Or was it just your personal perception of the world that changed? “We will never forget,” they say. But that’s what a generation before us said after Pearl Harbor.
I believe with all my heart in what the United States of America truly stands for, in the ideals on which it was founded. But I feel we have fallen far away from those ideals as a result of our reaction to the events of 9/11 – and THAT is what saddens and angers me even more than the loss of innocent life. I pray that as a country, we will stop cowering behind bravado and return someday to what made us truly great: to embracing the REAL American values of individualism with respect, openness without fear, and freedom with hope that made us a target that fateful day.