Honored to have been chosen as my son’s interviewee for his 8th grade writing assignment for which he was to interview someone who could recall the tragic events of 9/11, I feel it is important to honor the day, while promoting freedom, peace and tolerance.
In remembrance of the people who lost their lives, or were directly affected, I am humbled and saddened. My account comes from my perspective of the day, indirectly experienced from the opposite side of the country. Despite my personal impact being merely one of emotion and empathy, and being grateful for my freedom, my recollection to my son of that horrific day includes thoughts on promoting progress moving forward:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my husband and I had both been at home getting ready for work, celebrating his birthday. We were completely unaware of what was happening on the other side of the country until we each arrived at work in downtown Sacramento. I learned about the attack as soon as I walked through the front door of my office. The television in the adjacent conference room was surrounded by co-workers watching the news.
My immediate reaction was complete disbelief and shock, not fully comprehending the situation. Watching the first tower in flames was surreal. My response quickly turned to terrified, as I saw that the second tower and the Pentagon had also been hit; we realized that it was not an accident. My response ultimately was utter horror as I watched the two enormous towers collapse, and when the news notified us of a missing fourth hijacked plane. (We would later learn of the heroism aboard that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, and of the catastrophe they had prevented.)
Both network and cable news seemed to provide information as it became available. The media was very brave, capturing the series of events and the people directly affected. On every station, the news was completely saturated by the event, but maximum coverage was essential to keep everyone throughout the country informed.
Oftentimes, there is too much coverage, and too much focus on the offenders, which I believe fuels them and encourages their message through terror. In general, news stations have a responsibility to provide facts and information without over-dramatization. But this day was different; there was no embellishment. This was real. The attacks were the only thing on the minds of the people.
Since that day, there has been minimal direct impact to me. I refuse to live through fear, though I will never forget the events or images of September 11. I have become more aware of my surroundings. Security enforcement is now much more present. Precautions have become increasingly more time consuming and inconvenient, especially for air travel; expanded limitations and invasive procedures — minimal liquid carry-on items, scanning belongings, removal of shoes and metals, body scans — has led to impatient security and frustrated or typecasted travelers.
America is vulnerable. Where we once may have felt separate from terrorist activities in other parts of the world, Americans now know that we are not exempt; we are all equally at risk. We have a global responsibility to work with other countries in order to counteract terrorist organizations in a productive, cooperative manor.
Future generations must understand and learn from all historical events, including 9/11. For global progress and understanding, historians need to record an unbiased account of the events that led up to September 11, not just focus on our victimization. We need to continue to honor those who gave or risked their lives to help that day and in the days that followed.
As time passes, there is a balance between honoring and progress. I’m hopeful that Americans become more understanding of and connected to the rest of the world, and within our own country. I also hope that, in their perception of the attacks, Americans realize that terrorists do not represent the Muslim community. Extremists exist as a separate minority from any group that they claim to represent.
Cooperation and diplomacy are paramount. Humility, awareness and respect for all people are key elements of diplomacy. Travel helps diffuse fear of differences, and instead, facilitate understanding and appreciation for other ideas and cultures.
Initially, the events of September 11 united the American people. We felt victimized, but quickly rose up together as a nation against terrorism. Over time, some have sought to obliterate the root of a complex situation. Others are cautious to avoid compounding contention.
Emotional responses to people or ideas that we fear encourage anxious, protective mindsets; and the tendency to see ourselves as separate from one another has produced deep-rooted divisions within the current American culture. Discussion about major issues is essential; however, when we connect our identity to our viewpoints, constructive discussion becomes difficult.
The terrorist attacks created an opportunity for entertainment media to tell the 9/11 story and to promote relevant counter-terrorism themes. Movies and TV tend to over-dramatize events and contribute to the idea of victimization, promoting the “America First” ultra-patriotism. It is important to celebrate one’s country and culture, but excess pride and righteousness can create deeper division from the rest of the world, leading to discord and feelings of separation.
We need to diffuse fear with more connection, more cooperation; by limiting focus on victimization, we diminish the power of terrorists.
September 11 should be a national day of observance, simply to remember those who lost or risked their lives, to honor our firefighters and police force, and to observe a day when freedom was threatened. It is a day to recognize that, although all people throughout the world are not the same, we are all equal and deserve to live peacefully and harmoniously.
Freedom should not be taken for granted; however, it needs to be promoted respectfully within this complex world, full of rich, multifaceted cultures, histories and customs, all to be appreciated.
To move beyond a space of fear and resentment, each of us has a personal responsibility to move toward the light of peace, progress and tolerance.