I wasn’t there, but I will always be there. I was eleven years old when four commercial airplanes were hijacked on the morning of September 11, 2001. Turned into weapons of mass murder, two hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, one was steered into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the final plane, who’s target may have been the U.S. Capitol building, was brought down by passengers in a field in rural Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 people were killed and many thousands more were injured.
Living three time zones away, I didn’t see the destruction live, as many did, but I saw replays over and over again that day and for many weeks afterward. I can close my eyes and see smoke pouring out of a gaping wound in the South Tower, the North Tower crumbling under its own weight as a cloud of dust obscured its collapse, a man plunging headfirst from a burning skyscraper. September 11 was a day of tragedy on a scale I still struggle to comprehend — and a stark dividing line separating the world that existed up to that morning from the dark days that followed.
For those of us who were children on the day of the attack, but still old enough to remember it, the shadow cast by 9/11 is long. It is a part of our collective cultural memory, a moment when the innocence of childhood was pulled out from under us and the horrors of the world were laid bare. I once read that world events which occur in early adolescence have a profound effect on the development of our values, beliefs, and political opinions. I can’t find that article now, but I believe its central argument holds up. My worldview was strongly shaped by that day and by the events which followed: the War on Terror, the era of “See Something, Say Something” paranoia, the rise of the surveillance state, and the unraveling of our country’s civic fabric.
I was a different person after September 11, 2001. We are all different now, moulded by a shared national trauma. Consumed by grief and anger, we inflicted lasting harm on ourselves and the world. Not all of it was intentional and perhaps it could not have been avoided, but the impact of this single day of terror continues to reverberate not only across America, but also in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, caught in the crosshairs of our retribution. I don’t know where that leaves us, but I know it did not bring back those who were lost that day.
The September 11 attacks will probably always define our generation, much as the Kennedy assassination or the Moon landing are forever tied to our parents’ coming of age. I don’t know what that legacy will ultimately be. Twenty years later, the dust is still settling. But I do hope it can spur us to honor the memories of those who died, support those living with the physical and emotional scars of the attack and its aftermath, and work to create a more peaceful world where this cycle of violence is broken once and for all.
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Jonny Eberle lives in Tacoma, WA with his wife, three typewriters, and a puppy. His fiction has been featured in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine and All Worlds Wayfarer. Read more of his short fiction, follow him on Twitter, and subscribe to his monthly email newsletter.