I remember when I was little and people would say that they remembered exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. Or heard of President Kennedy's assassination. Or when they found out that Elvis had died.
There are events that - rightfully - stop us in our tracks - that sear into the very fabric of our beings, individually and collectively...events by which our lives are measured.
Prior to September 11, 2001, my generation of Americans had never really felt the sting of the world's hatred or tasted the bitterness of war. Sure, we were born at the tail end of the "cold war" and we have never known a world without the "war on drugs". Yes, our childhood was shadowed by the first Gulf War, but really, that was hardly a flash in the pan compared with the Vietnam War, the Korean conflict and the two World Wars fought and endured by our predecessors.
And you know what? We were blissfully ignorant. We were content to be noteworthy because of our sheer lack of noteworthiness. We were a generation of lovers, not fighters. As a whole, we weren't known for our selflessness or our patriotism. If anything, we were known for our apathy and our lack of any real distinction. We were children who watched Oliver North and Ronald Reagan conveniently forget. We came of age under a president who had to have attorneys explain what "it" meant. We are a generation that understands the draft on a textbook level and nothing more.
We were sort of a frivolous bunch really, if we are honest.
After September 11, 2001 everything changed. Everything was redefined. New lines were drawn, new standards set. We watched our loved ones suffer and die that day. We also watched as we - the twentysomethings, just discovering and grasping adulthood - scratched and clawed and struggled to help, to put things back together. To join with other Americans of every age, to move ahead. To show those that had brought us harm that we are not apathetic. We are not ne'er do wells. We are fighters, too, when we are called to be.
We as a generation came of age that day and in the days since. We as a nation have become more than we were, somehow. I am thankful for that. While I remember this day with sadness and reverence, it also symbolizes a new era for us as a nation. We are stronger, more resolved, more resilient than any one knew on September 10. I hope that those who lost loved ones on that day know that their deaths were not in vain. That we are a better people and a better nation because of their sacrifice that day.
Astronaut Steven Lindsey once said, "The anniversaries remind us that we can never be complacent about anything. [They] help us remind each other, each year, to refocus. . ."
I hope we never stop reminding each other, each year, to refocus.