Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where You Were

Photo courtesy

Each generation will defined by some sort of tragedy. It's the unfortunate reality of the world we're lucky enough to live in.

As a kindergartner, I remember watching the Challenger blow up from the school's lunchroom where the only TV's were located.
In my 9th grade civics class, I sat in a silent classroom watching Channel One project the Oklahoma City bombing news that took place that April.
In 1996, I remember hearing about the Olympic bombing in Atlanta as I worked my summer job in a cashier's smock at a grocery store.
As a college freshman in my tiny dorm room, I sat huddled with my girlfriends and floor mates, crying as coverage of the Columbine shooting took over every channel.

But, one Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, is the tragedy that defined my generation.
I was a college senior, walking home from my boyfriend's in glasses and a hoodie before 8am to get ready for class. As I did every morning, I turned on the Today Show in my bedroom. As a journalism student, Katie Couric was my true hero, and I lusted after the daily news the way some people lust after music videos.

I remember sitting on my bed, in my towel, and listening to what was happening in New York ... in my country.
I remember my roommates waking up to the news.
I remember walking in a tight, quiet huddle to campus, because the only thing we knew, was we didn't want to be alone.
Campus was not chaotic as I imagined, or hoped. The eerily silence of 10,000 students made what was happening on the east coast real. It was heartbreaking. I can't even remember if classes were cancelled, because the first class I made it to was full of my peers. We sat in front of our instructor, who's sole purpose was to teach a class full of students how to report and write bylines. He was speechless, as well. So we sat. We cried. We feared.

As a college senior, you're considered an adult. A few months later, after commencement, you'd walk the line straight to a real job. You gradually began to worry more and more about your rent, car insurance, meals, working two jobs, meeting deadlines, writing papers, leaving the only city you'd known the past four years. It was a fine line to straddle at 21, and here on the very cusp of adulthood, you were left to wonder about terrorism and death tolls and retaliation and war and, oh, my God, you knew people from your hometown who were already in the Army. What did this mean? What was going to happen?

As I often did at that age and stage in my life, I prophesied on moving to Seattle, or North Carolina. Somewhere very non-Midwest. I often talked to my parents about post-college adventures.

I remember my Mom's email that day, on September 11, 2001. "So glad you are safe and sound in good old Minnesota. Maybe moving to either coast isn't such a good idea ... "
It didn't matter where you lived that day. It still doesn't matter. We're all on American soil. It happened to all of us. And it continues to. It's been 10 years, an entire decade. We're still healing, we're still leery, we're still learning that we're not exempt from terror, unspeakable intentional damage, or deeply inflicted pain just because we live in America.

But, that can't diminish our hope, or extinguish our pride. It hasn't. It can't. It won't.

Robert Brault said, "Sometimes in tragedy we find our life's purpose - the eye sheds a tear to find its focus."

It's hard to imagine something as unspeakably horrible like the attacks on 9/11 happening again, and defining my daughter's generation. But, something will. Something that will make her remember where she was when it happened, how she reacted, who she relied on, how she found the confidence to rally.

And how she never, ever gave up hope the outcome could be unlived in the next generation.

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