I’ve wrestled with writing this piece for weeks. Here I find myself, the night before September 11th, just starting it. This subject leaves me feeling vulnerable, reminiscent of the emotional response triggered in many Americans as the tragic events unfolded.
The 13 year anniversary of 9/11 reminds us of how long it has been since the day; babies born that day have now become teenagers. They are now older than I was on the day they were born.
On September 11th, 2001, I was a 11 years old. As they say, you will never forget where you were that day:
6th grade; elementary school; Mrs. E’s classroom. The main office kept buzzing into the room, releasing students for early dismissal — in the middle of our state-administered standardized tests! Didn’t they know better?
As the office asked the 4th or 5th student to pack up for dismissal, my teacher — a particularly fun and sarcastic teacher — jokingly said “Um, no! We are taking a test.” The room of 11 year olds broke out into laughter, but when the office sent someone to our classroom to speak with our teacher, we knew something wasn’t quite right; and, when she came back stone-faced and pale as a ghost, we were all tipped off that whatever happened was worse than we thought. As the office released more students, we were no longer laughing.
When it was my turn, I packed up and headed to the front office. Seeing my dad, I was surprised. Let me explain: my dad is Nigerian. Any Nigerians reading this know that is all the explanation needed. For everyone else, that means he takes education very seriously. Under any other circumstances, if anyone would have picked me up from school early, it definitely would have been my mom.
Once we left the building and started walking up the hill toward his car, the first thing he asked was, “Did they tell you they’re attacking the country?” That is how I learned. Sensitivity is not quite his strong suit.
To make matters worse, we lived in a suburb just 20 minutes outside of Washington DC; a prime target, for sure. My mind raced with confusion, disbelief, and fear — a childish fear, because that’s what I was: a child.
That brings me to my main point. Those of us in my age bracket of 21-26 have access to a unique perspective; a perspective that our elders and those younger than us cannot and will not ever understand.
We experienced the events of 9/11 with a childlike understanding. Initially, this might not seem revolutionary because you have known you were a child during that day. However, think of this:
The strange thing is that, although many of us were old enough that the attacks were not hidden from us, none of us fully understood what really happened that day. We were old enough to attempt to understand what was happening as the events unfolded in real time, but hindered by the thought processes of a child-developed brain.
As we aged, the truth could not be hidden from our eyes, our ears, and our minds. We were forced into the reality of a war-struck world at an early age.
We are now adults. Each year, as we mourn the anniversary of 9/11, we are reintroduced to images from that day. With age, we now truly understand the weight of the tragedy and loss from an adult perspective.
Our minds struggle with the memory of our childhood fears, encapsulated by an adult body and brain. It’s an interesting paradox to live in: to understand something with an adult brain, manipulated partially by a childhood view.
Yet, we have learned so much from this. We have grown so much from this, and we have a broader emotional understanding of 9/11 to show for it. We were at that fascinating age that was just old enough, yet still young enough to tap into this unusual perspective; to see it from both sides.