Ever year on September 11, I spend a minute remembering 9/11. Twenty years ago, on September 11, 2001, the most significant and tragic event of my childhood took place. It was on that day that I knew that life had changed forever and would never be the same again. In remembrance of 9/11, I want to share with you 20 powerful truths I learned since then. It is one truth for every year since those planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing hundreds, injuring thousands, and affecting numerous lives all across the country and the world.
20 Powerful Truths I Learned
1. The community is always strongest and united after adversity
Those few weeks — and even months — after 9/11 were one of the strongest times I have ever witnessed. It was during those times that I saw people reach out and help another person, even someone they had never met. I saw people exchange more warm hello’s, smiles, and waves, and I saw more people giving greater consideration to the common man. During that time, it was as if everything that was dividing us — race, ethnicity, religion — was suddenly stripped away. The thing that was keeping us together and unified was what we had all just shared and experienced as Americans.
2. People tend to look for a scapegoat to the world’s problems
This is an unfortunate truth, but people do tend to look toward something — or someone — to blame for a problem or an issue that went wrong. I have read about that in Germany in what eventually escalated into World War II when the Nazis started blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s problems. And similarly, I saw that after 9/11 in the rise of hate and prejudice against Muslims. It is simply unjust and unethical to blame an entire group of people for something that was not their fault. You would think that we would have learned since 9/11 but this need to find a scapegoat is still going on even today. And that is extremely sad because after seeing an entire population nearly decimated due to this very same blame we would have learned, but it is a problem that is still affecting our mindset today.
3. Always be grateful because tomorrow is never guaranteed
People went to work on September 11, 2001, just like any other day. They went to work thinking that they would come home later that day to their families. But the thing is, many of them never did. One huge lesson that I learned from 9/11 is to always be grateful, because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Anything can happen that can suddenly change our entire lives around, like it did on 9/11. Those people who died were regular people with lives, families, and so much hope, but that was all gone in an instant. Anything can happen, so always be thankful for what you have today. Today is always the most important day of your life.
4. The media was a lifeline
9/11 happened several years before social media would take the world by storm. When it happened, people gathered around their TVs, watching the instant replays and watching the politicians and the then president react to the news, I remember watching those planes fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when I got home from school. In that moment, the TV — the media — was a lifeline to the rest of the world, feeding us information about what was happening. Furthermore, this was when many of us flocked to message boards to commiserate with our peers about what had transpired, and what was yet to happen.
5. The awful repercussions that can result from religious fervor
After many years have passed since 9/11, we can reflect and think back to what happened. We can remember how religious fervor was used as a mechanism to justify violence. And it was a violence that seemed so senseless and shocking to my young 12 year old mind. It was the kind of violence that just did not make any sense. As I got older, I learned that sometimes religion can make people do things that don’t always make sense.
6. How an ordinary day can change in an instant
On the day that those attacks happened, it was just an ordinary day. They were just going about their work expecting to see their families again just like the day before. But that never happened. And what was seemingly ordinary turned into extraordinary as the entire world watched New York take center stage and watched with bated breath to see what would happen next, and how America would react.
7. How one war can go on for years
Sometime after 9/11, when I heard that we were going to send some of our troops to Afghanistan, I thought it would be a quick affair. What I didn’t count on was American soldiers staying on foreign soil for twenty-years. Three administrations after 9/11, and we are just now bringing them home. Between that executive order on September 18, 2001 and today with the order to return, I wonder if 20 years was really necessary for this. Maybe there was something else we could have done that wouldn’t have resorted to so much violence and military usage — and all in the name of terrorism.
8. A breach in security can happen in even the safest of places
Before 9/11, I always thought of America as a safe haven. Terrible wars can be fought all across the globe, but you can find peace, hope, and the so-called American dream here. Because of these idealistic values, America is supposed to be safe. Well, all of that broke after 9/11. Suddenly, we were no longer safe. We were under attack. We were a country at war. It was strange to wake up from an idealistic childhood into one that could transform into a war torn country only ever seen in history books.
9. The value of everyday heroes
One good thing about 9/11 is that it has taught people to appreciate heroes. And I’m not talking about superheroes. I’m talking about the firefighters, police officers, and other public safety workers who rushed in to save people during the attacks. I’m talking about the total stranger who reached out a helping hand to that person who realized they would never see their family member or friend again. I am talking about the people who knew a victim from 9/11 and have to somehow move on. Big or small, heroes were created on, and after 9/11. Remembering this day is about remembering the people who did something to help another person.
10. How terrorism affects day-to-day life
Before 9/11, I didn’t even know what terrorism was. After 9/11, this word has basically become synonymous with evil, violence, and foreign acts. Just the very word makes me freeze in my tracks instilling fear.
11. The importance of the military and defense
9/11 showed us just how important the military is. And I am not talking about using it in combat and in war. I am talking about how much the military inspired many people to join so that they can defend America and all those people who died on that terrible day. It gave these people a sense of patriotism and duty for this country.
12. The value of air travel
Right after 9/11, all air travel ceased. I remember feeling as if the entire country had stopped — if not the entire world. That is how much air travel is so important to the economy. And then, when the air travel finally opened back up with the strictest regulations, it was the beginning of a new era. Air travel would never ever be the same, even fun, experience it once was.
13. How even America is not as strong as assumed
We all assumed that America was strong and that nothing could penetrate it. But we were wrong. Just goes to show that even the strongest can crumble if you find its weaknesses.
14. The rise of hatred and prejudice
Another unfortunate effect to 9/11 was the rise of hatred and prejudice. Even a few years after 9/11, I saw so much hate and prejudice against Muslims. It was so disheartening to see people target and treat people poorly simply because of assumptions, appearance, and religion. And it showed that things have not changed at all. Whatever feeling of unity we might have felt directly after 9/11 was gone and instead we were faced with feelings of terror, anger, and distrust.
15. How innocence can be broken by one act of evil
Many of us millennials were just kids when this happened. I was just twelve years old, on the cusp of becoming a teenager. But 9/11 broke that bubble and suddenly my innocent world was no longer so innocent. Suddenly, we saw the evil creep in like the way a burglar does in the middle of the night. These things can take us by surprise, but it is how we act to it that makes all the difference.
16. What happened in America doesn’t stop at the borders
Another thing I learned is that what happens in America is affected world wide. However much many Americans may wish to stay isolated, it really is impossible to do so. Even little things have ripple effects. And then the big things affect the entire world. It just shows how closely connected we are to the rest of the world.
17. An entire world existed before it was vanquished
I think of these two existences as two lives, and as two worlds. There was my before 9/11 life which symbolized innocence and childhood. And then there was my post 9/11 world, which is when I was forced to grow up as I saw the world for it really was and we continued to grapple with the questions that arose. I also see my before 9/11 life as the pre Internet era. My post 9/11 life, on the other hand, marked the beginning of the internet age. It was at this point that we started using new forms of media to communicate. It was at this point that the Internet started to get faster and message boards morphed into social media platforms. Both the world as I knew it, and myself, were forced to grow up in the blink of an eye.
18. It takes time to heal
It takes time to heal. 9/11 was a big event for many of us. We aren’t going to feel better the next day. We needed time to adjust and cope. And that is what we need to do with any other event.
19. Love and hope are the arsenals to strength
Above all, we need to have love and hope in order to cope and survive. With love and hope, we can get through anything.
20. It is the 20 year anniversary but has anything changed?
Has anything changed? Have we made significant improvements since September 11, 2001? I’ll leave this question with you.
You might also like: Remembering 9/11 — This Is My Story