By: Amy Lutz
One week from today, Americans will stand together in solidarity in remembrance of the terrible tragedy on September 11th, 2001. Ten years ago, many current college students were still learning long division or feeling their first crushes and heartbreaks. Most of us had not yet experienced the harsh realities of the real world and still retained a bubbly spark of optimism and security. Yet, on that horrific September morning, our innocence was wiped away. All Americans, regardless of age, fixated on newspapers, televisions, and computer screens as the sorrowful narrative unfolded. The lives of 2,996 of our fellow citizens were tragically cut short. Eight of those lives were of children who never grew to drive a car, graduate from high school, or enter college. These tragic memories will forever stain our history and have proven to shape not just a decade, but a generation.
On September 11th, 2001, at about 10:00 AM, I was busy fidgeting with my plaid uniform jumper in a church pew during a weekly school mass. Usually, I allowed my mind to wander during Father Gerard Senecal's sermons, but on that day, I was thankfully a bit more attentive than usual. As Father Gerard opened his mouth, I could tell that his tone was different. He neglected to analyze the gospel or readings for the day, and instead went right into relaying a piece of news that I'm sure no one in his audience will ever forget. He told the parents, teachers, and students crowded into the wooden pews that airplanes had hit the World Trade Center Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. We had yet to hear about the heroism of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. I watched as Father Gerard raised both his arms vertically as a visible representation of what the towers had looked like, or at least that's how I thought it appeared. Now, I wish I could say that I broke down in tears, hugged my friends, and held hands with my classmates as we all sang hymns, but that's not exactly what happened. Certainly, we all sent up a prayer for the lives who had been touched by the tragedy, but at the time, I was still young and uninformed. I only knew the World Trade Center as the "Twin Towers" and because Father Gerard had neglected to use this moniker, I believed the attacks had occurred at some obscure office buildings on the east coast. I did not realize the full scope of the day until I made it home after school. I vividly remember sitting in the front seat of my parent's silver Chrysler Town and Country as my mother pulled up to our mailbox and opened the window. I still can recall the creak of the driver's side window, the crunch of the gravel under the van's tires, and the sound the mailbox made as my mother opened it. She slowly grasped the handful of letters, newspapers, and magazines from the mailbox and pulled them into the car. Instead of handing the packet over to me as she usually did, my mother unfolded the Atchison Daily Globe and my heart stopped. On the front page was an enormous picture of two skyscrapers with smoke furling from their upper floors. I could almost smell the smoke and hear the screams as my mind began to realize what had happened earlier that morning. My family and I read many different accounts of the tragedy that day, in the Kansas City Star, USA Today, and St. Joseph News Press. Fox News was on the living room television 24/7. The tone of each report was somber and sorrowful.
In the days following 9/11, tales of both tragedy and heroism rose above the thin barriers of political and social debate that had previously divided Americans. We all stood in solidarity and watched as our leaders and citizens tried to put our broken nation back together again. Flags hung on every house, building, and streetlamp. The words "Never Forget" became a part of our vocabulary. About a week after the tragedy, the Atchison Daily Globe printed a full page American flag on the back of their publication. My sister and I, who shared a room at the time, placed the flag on our bedroom window so that all cars driving by could see the comforting flash of red, white, and blue as they navigated our subdivision. It was, however, what was written on the back of the flag that changed my life forever. Although on one side the newspaper page showed nothing but our nation's flag, the reverse side depicted something else. In black and white letters, the Atchison Daily Globe printed a brief statement spoken by President George W. Bush about the tragedy. "These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve." Every morning as I readied myself for school in the weeks following 9/11, I read that statement over and over again. As I memorized the words, I could feel something powerful growing inside me. In hindsight, I truly believe that, although I have always been proud of my country, that was the first time I knew what American pride felt like. I actually got choked up as I delved into the meaning of that statement. Eventually, I could no longer contain the rising resolve inside myself and I released it by writing a poem depicting my newly found sense of patriotism:
"These acts have shattered steel; they have done things we cannot heal.
They have taken away lives; it felt like they stabbed us with knives.
Though it doesn't seem right; they cannot take away the right for America to come back and fight."
Now, that is in the writing of a 10-year-old, so the rhyming scheme and flow is a bit shaky, but the emotional release I felt from putting my patriotism down on paper was what really mattered. At the time, I was a shy, unconfident, and isolated child, so I felt awkward and embarassed letting the world see a glimpse of my inner thoughts, but I felt like this was something that needed to be said. Over the years that followed, I learned to let people in through my writing and each sucessive poem, essay, or blog post helped to release my inner self even more. That cycle began on a cloudy day in September. My life truly changed that day and I am humbled because of it. If I had the chance to exchange my newfound sense of self for the hundreds of lives cut short on 9/11, I would do it in a heartbeat. Although, since the past cannot be changed, I plan on never letting their deaths be in vain. I will use the sense of American solidarily and pride that emerged in my soul on September 11th, 2001 to memorialize the heroes who died that day and ensure that our nation is one of which they could be proud.
My path took a sharp turn that day, as did the paths of all of my peers. The process of rebuilding that surrounded us helped fuel the passions and growth of our generation. As we grew into adults, our nation grew out of tragedy. We all learned to rebuild and help each other up. We learned that our petty debates over ideology and political party are in the end, not what will bring our nation together. More often than not, they drive our nation apart. We must once again be the Americans that we were on September 12th, united and compassionate. When Americans stand together by common values and principles, it is impossible to dent our resolve. Ten years after 9/11, we are once again divided and weakened because of political and ideological difference. It does not take a presidential election to create great change. We changed for the better on September 12th, 2001 because as Americans, we rose above our differences and united in sorrow and resolve. That resolve has not died, and never will; it has simply been forgotten. We must always remember such resolve and promise ourselves that the lives damaged by 9/11 will be ones we will never forget.