Yesterday, taking the E train to Times Square, it was hard not to think about September 11th. Not only because it was the eve of the tenth anniversary, but because it’s hard not to think about the towers anytime you ride a train that tells you it’s going to a destination that no longer exists. If you lost someone on September 11th, you don’t just think about that them if you ride the E train or even on the anniversary, but on so many other days- birthdays, holidays, when a certain song plays. I think I would resent the hoopla and the speeches of everyone else (probably even this column), but that’s just me.
I was 16 when the towers fell, and I didn’t cry. Our headmaster announced that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers at the end of his speech at our school’s morning meeting. Classes weren’t even canceled, but I happened to have the next period off, so I went back to my dorm and called my brother on a pay phone, as cell phones weren’t allowed, and I wouldn’t smuggle one in until second semester of my junior year. I remember he’d been sleeping, and I apologized for waking him up and told him he had to turn on the TV.
Then I went into our common room and watched the news by myself; I’m one of the few people in my boarding school that watched the towers fall live, as most people went about in a bubble even bigger than the bubble of a New England prep school already is on any given day. I wasn’t alone for long. A sophomore came running in and starred at the television. One of the towers collapsed and so did she. It’s hard for me to think about now, and at the time, I couldn’t process it. She had friends with her, and I stood there helpless, which is how many people spent 9/11. She eventually reached her Dad, who worked in the towers, and it turned out he had gotten out in time. Sports practices were held as normal that afternoon, and we had a memorial the next day. I remember one of the administrator’s cell phones started ringing during the Chaplin’s speech.
I look back at 9/11 as the start of my global consciousness because before then, I’m not sure I had much of one. I didn’t need it. I was 16, wrapped up in my own life, sequestered on an idyllic New England campus most of the time, but it was hard to ignore world news from that day forward. There were words to learn, like jihad and Al queda. And then in college, I became a geography major. I switched from studying English because in Intro to Human Geography, the world was explained to me in a way it never had been before. We talked about where drug dealers and college students fit on the scale of gentrification, we talked about Nike, we talked about population in Italy and Madagascar. From that moment on, I looked at the world through a geographer’s eyes. At 16, I was forced to learn about things I didn’t really understand, but at 18, I began trying in earnest to understand them.
I spent much of my time in college studying nationalism, and on a day like today, I find it’s hard not to be upset. Not just because of all the lives lost on 9/11, but for all the lives lost after 9/11, thousands and thousands of civilians in Iraq because of a war we started on false pretenses, how the memories of those whose lives were lost on 9/11 were hijacked a second time in order to declare a war. I wonder why we value some people’s lives more than others because of where they were born on a map. From a critical perspective, I know that nationalism is a powerful ideology that surrounds us all the time, from the anthem at the baseball game to the Budweiser beer cans that came out this Memorial Day. But on a purely emotional level, as a human, I don’t understand, and I hope I never will.
When thousands acted like their team won the Super Bowl in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, I went to bed. He was an evil man, but what are we when we chant USA and party like Mardi Gras after his death? How can we say we fight for freedom and democracy when we torture human beings in the name of said principles? How do we really go forward into the next ten years with such tunnel vision? We must look at the economic disparity in this world that creates the desperate situations from which Al Queda recruits it’s suicide bombers. We must look at xenophobia in the UK that allows well to do second generation children to grow into terrorist adults. A few men are born evil, but thousands of terrorists around the globe aren’t. They are created. And the actions of our country, whether we like it or not, often helps create them.
I was a child who couldn’t cry when 9/11 happened because she didn’t know what she was watching. Ten years later, I’m an adult who finds it hard not to cry because the world we live in is still so fractured, so hungry for blood and revenge, and so unaware of how precious life really is.