9/11 twenty years later

The smoke. 

The flames. 

The gut-wrenching screams, and most frightening of all, a chaotic collapse. 

These images stick with all of us as we approach the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center collapse. 

I was my son’s exact age when Al-Qaeda and a few airliner jets forever altered the future.

Mrs. Boylan’s seventh grade social studies class was interrupted by footage of the first hi-jacked plane hitting the Towers at 7:45 local time. My memory remains rather fuzzy all these years later, but I believe we were  in first period at the old Ames Middle School when the news broke. I remember one kid thinking it was “cool,” before a shockingly mature classmate aggressively scolded him for such a thought. 

Sadly, the class subject couldn’t have been more relevant that day, studying how societies live and die. As 12 year olds, we surely didn’t know how to process what was happening, and really, it’s still difficult to comprehend today.  Nearly 3,000 lives were taken from us on September 11, 2001 in a shocking attack of terror. 

I vaguely remember our collective state of confusion and horror, thinking we were on the brink of war, possibly on our own soil. 

The raw footage is still rather jarring, even two decades later. 

It steals your breath, pains the heart. 

The planes crashing squarely into the sky-scrapers didn’t seem real then, and it feels even more like a movie now. That’s certainly not making light of the situation, that’s how impossible the WTC collapse seemed. 

I was a naive little butthead back in those days. My dumb middle school brain thought the wall-to-wall news coverage was excessive, choosing to whine about the lack of sports. 

I just wanted football. 

What blossomed out of this tragedy was of course mourning, but several other remarkable instances. 

The devastation brought our country together, uniting us with emotional displays of affection (remember the subway series between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets in the 2001 World Series?), and various acts of patriotism. 

The National Anthem never meant more in those following months – we were ready to prove to any outside groups our bravery. America was the land of the strong and proud. 

Flash forward 20 years and we are as divided as ever, battling over the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations, racism and political affiliations. We are somewhat free of terrorism today, though our focus seems to be on everything but unity. Social media exploded in the years following the World Trade Center collapse, inciting outlandish opinions and shedding light on a lack of necessary education. Apple and Amazon monopolized the economy and a pandemic threatened to wipe out small business all together. 

The past two decades provoke a strange sensation, indeed.  

Yes, we elected our first black president, which was an incredible moment for our nation. We witnessed women and the LGBTQ community gain much needed respect and equal rights. 

I’ve managed to stay afloat myself, battling through a depleted journalism field just as it began to crash. I became a father, re-discovered my love for reading and dove deeper into the craft of writing.

We aren’t necessarily better as a whole following the 9/11 attacks, that’d be rather insensitive while simultaneously oversimplifying it, though things are indeed different. And of course, sometimes, change is good. 

Security, thankfully, was beefed up in airports as well as at sporting events following the tragedy, which was certainly more vital than we had ever imagined. In hindsight, it’s remarkable a similar attack didn’t happen years earlier. Many of us also became more aware of current events, though some could argue that is a negative with the varying opinions news carries with it. The information super highway was supposed to be a good thing, instead, it’s caused a divide and spread misinformation like a disease. 

As a whole, the 20 years since the WTC collapse have been interesting, a mix of anger, sadness, and surprise in addition to constant revelations. 

A successful society never remains complacent. 

As we turn our attention toward a devastating milestone and the memories come flooding back, it’s necessary to reflect and look ahead as positively as we can. 

The United States of America has plenty of problems, but no matter what, it’s time to unite again. Let’s return to the backyard grill outs, the patriotism and the kindness. Let’s welcome opinions and new cultures instead of shunning those who are different. It’s what this country was founded on (for the most part), and it’s what will get us through any other tragedies which come our way. 


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