Saturday, September 11, 2021

20 Years Since 9/11

I can't believe it's been 20 years since 9/11. Every American who was old enough to know something was going on remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. For me, I was in elementary school. I remember that suddenly everything that day stopped. My school cancelled classes and the teachers turned on all the TVs. All of the adults around me were crying, and I wasn't old enough to really understand why but I didn't think I'd ever seen so many grown-ups crying all together before. Growing up in northern Virginia, there was an extra fear among some of the families that a loved one might have been killed in the Pentagon attack.

I remember sitting, confused and sad, with all the other students as we waited for our parents to come and pick us up. I don't recall much else from that day. After that, though, things would never really be the same. So many people in my community came together to comfort and support each other. That experience didn't extend equally to everyone, though. Later, I learned that some of my friends who were Arab or Muslim or looked Arab or Muslim to others were treated very differently from that day all because some people decided they were the enemy.

There is no excuse for heinous terrorist attacks, and there's no justification for discrimination and violence against marginalized groups, either. Whenever I write or see or hear #NeverForget, of course I think of how we must not forget the enormous human cost of that day: the lives lost, the physical and mental health permanently harmed, the friends and family with a gaping hole where their loved ones should still be. We also must not forget the goodness of the first responders, of those who helped others trying to escape, and the people all over the country and world who came together to mourn with us. We must also never forget the temptation embedded in the worst parts of human nature to blame someone just because they are different from us.

If you have time today, I highly recommend listening to the latest episode of a podcast I love called The Experiment: What 9/11 Did to One Family. With an excellent combination of strong reporting and compassion, they interview the family members of Bobby McIlvaine, Jr., one of the almost 3,000 Americans who died in the attacks 20 years ago today. I loved an analogy of grief referenced in the episode: grief is like everyone affected being at the top of a mountain with a broken leg. They all need to make their own way to the bottom of the mountain, but they can't rely on each other the same way they otherwise would because they all have the same problem: the broken leg. Everyone needs to make their own path down in their own time.

I hope everyone reading this post is making their own way down the mountain of grief, whatever form that's taken. If you or someone you care about is struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other adverse mental health effects, which research shows can increase around anniversaries of traumatic events, please don't hesitate to talk to a grief psychologist or other mental health professional. Let's take care of ourselves and each other.

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