Reflections on 17 Years Since 9-11

This past week was the seventeenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on New York City and Washington DC. Like most Canadians, I didn’t really make much of a deal out of it – it was an ordinary Tuesday this year. (It started out like an ordinary Tuesday seventeen years ago as well…)

But I did reflect on how I can officially say that I have lived over half my life now in a post-9-11 world. I travelled a lot within Canada as a child (with a few forays abroad), but most of my travel memories have been since 2001. I associate the days of not meticulously packing liquids separately, keeping my shoes on, and breezing on through security as being part of childhood – ever increasing security measures have become second nature to me. I almost forget what it would be like to visit the captain, have a metal knife and fork, and have my relatives see me off from the gate. (I don’t think that last bit ever happened to me personally, although I had heard of it happening.)

Travel issues aside, I mostly reflected on how much has changed in the past seventeen years. By contrast, 2001 was only ten years removed from the end of the Cold War. Nearly an entire generation has grown up with 9-11 being a mere historical event rather than an actual memory. (Indeed, children born after the event now qualify for the U.S. Army reserves.)

The day of the attacks, our history teacher reminded us that this was history as it unfolded. This was what “real history” was like – scary, unknown, hard to analyse, and subject to a lot of change. On Sept. 11, 2001, we didn’t know what had really happened. Who was responsible? Why? What would be the response? What would happen? Would we end up in World War III? There was just a lot of “oh my God, wow!”

I can still remember what I was doing when I heard that a second plane had hit the Twin Towers, thereby confirming that this was no freak accident. I was standing in front of my wooden chest of drawers, holding a hairbrush in one hand and deodorant in the other. (I can’t remember which one I was picking up and which one I was putting down.) I was getting ready for school like I did on any other September morning. I don’t remember thinking that it was momentous at the time.

Not until I got to school and realised that the towers had collapsed, one shortly after I had left my house, the other as I walked into my first class of the day, did I think something truly horrible and world-ending might be happening.

It may seem strange why I have felt a strong connection to the events of 9-11. For sure, New York City is a common location for entertainment, so I likely felt some connection to the city because I had seen so many of its landmarks on television. I also have ancestral connections to New York – what is now the World Trade Cent[re] used to be the docks where my ancestors left in 1783, never to return. But I was not nearly as aware of that in the early 2000s as I am now.

And yet, I felt such an affinity for the event – the people, the place, etc. – that I even wrote a screenplay about it. In some ways, this screenplay was about my entire young adulthood and a tribute to saccharine romance rather than 9-11, but I nonetheless wrote it. The woman who is as anti-American as…(I don’t know, apple pie covered in maple syrup?) wrote a 9-11 tribute screenplay – that managed not to reference “America” once.

Because this wasn’t just about America to me. It was about the world – the confident, democratic world that I was supposed to be part of. Those of us who had grown up in the 1990s had been promised a wonderful future – we had relegated the threat of nuclear holocaust to the back burner, more states were democratising, and we had many Holocaust anniversaries to remind us not to go back down that road again. We were happy with political correctness because it was supposed to ensure a more egalitarian society.

This decade has since shattered that future even moreso than 9-11. My contemporaries thought concentration camps (or internment camps) were horribly unjust, but children and teenagers in the 2010s can argue that “it was for security!” Security has become a holy grail of some kind. I won’t bother going on a rant.

I decided that I would not think of 9-11 as a historical event in a long narrative, but as a tragedy that happened to people. Thousands died that day. Thousands more have died in related incidents since. All deaths have left families and friends bereft. Communities shattered. Lives unfinished. Society divided.

9-11 was the real end of my childhood – I started to pay much more attention to world events and my place in adult society that day. Earlier memories, particularly those associated with travel, seem almost foreign, as though they happened to someone else.

I wonder how many people born between 1983 and 1987 feel that way.

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