9/11 2001, morning: I was a high school freshman sitting in Ms. Motoike’s 1st period English class. School had just started and I hadn’t made any friends yet, just like most everyone else in my class. Ms. Motoike opened the classroom floor up to talk about how we felt about the attacks, and no one spoke out of shyness. It was a very quiet and tense first period.
Looking back, I realize how cool it was for her to ditch what was probably her carefully prepared lesson plan in order to offer that space to express ourselves. Even though no one spoke, I’m still thankful she didn’t pretend like nothing happened. Other adults might have not wanted to confront the issue with 13 & 14 year olds, but she trusted us enough with the truth that something was not right.
I got home from school that day and footage of the attacks was on TV playing over and over again. To an inner city LA kid, New York always seemed like such a ritzy and distant place to me. It was a big shiny apple that was out of reach. But when I saw that footage and learned more about what happened, it was like… a big bruise on that apple that brought it down to a human level. The shocking events allowed me to relate to the strangers whose lives were directly affected by the attacks. In the news footage, I saw sadness and fear on the faces of people, but also just everyone helping each other as best they could. What was going on here? Is this war? What’s going on outside of my safe little world of school and home? What caused all this? Why did these attackers do this to innocent people? What does “innocent” mean? Why did the destruction have to be so massive? People died in a fiery explosion, buried under tons rubble. Plumes of smoke and dust, bits of broken glass and concrete raining down. No one deserved to die, not in that way. But did the people who chose to do this deserve to die? Who was I to say what people deserved?
9/11 2001 was the first time I asked myself these kinds of questions. I was 13, and no one really had answers. The world just began to change around me in response to what happened, whether there were answers or not. In the 15 years since these attacks, I’ve watched our government get involved in wars and implement new rules and policies in air travel and immigration. I’ve heard stories from my friends about the abuse they receive from strangers for looking Middle-Eastern. After the attacks, the threat to American safety seemed more real than ever. But it has been 15 years of responding, often senselessly, and at great costs, to fear of the unknown.
I hope in the next 15 years that the unknown becomes known. I hope the American government will examine its policies and determine what actually works to destroy violent terrorism in all its forms. I am sad that hate begat more hate, and fear. I’m sad that our government still does not have the answers on how to defeat terrorism completely. I am thankful for all the people who, in these past 15 years, have shown compassion, care, and understanding in times of extreme hardship. I don’t have all the answers… 15 years later, I don’t have any answers, really. I’m just getting older and thinking to myself, there’s got to be a better way.