Ten years later

Monday, May 02, 2011

White House photo: Inside the Situation Room, May 1, 2011
Apparently the thing to ask today was, "How did you hear about Osama bin Laden's death?" So much has changed in ten years. The United States has its first African-American president. There is something called Facebook now, the iPhone, Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge, Twitter, full body scanners.

I found out about the September 11th attacks waiting outside my high school classroom on the second day of the school year. I'd wanted to speak with the teacher about the class before the period began, as I was given a choice of two English classes. I overheard one English teacher tell mine in a panicked voice, "We're going to be stuck here for a million hours. The subways have been shut down. We're never getting out of here." Though I had no idea what he was talking about, his tone filled me with the deepest dread.

Inside the classroom, in a hushed tone, my teacher briefed us on what she had heard about what had happened downtown. Minutes later, the rarely-used intercom crackled to life and the principal made a solemn announcement and directed us to go on with our day as scheduled.

And that's what I've done since. We were allowed, miraculously, to go out for lunch that day as usual and I remember numbly chewing my cream cheese bagel while staring at the white cloud drifting up Park Avenue towards us. We could all smell the scent of destruction, and it was an ashy, charred smell that lingered in the city for days, even after the skies opened up that night and cried for the lost.

This time around, I was at my desk in the comfort of my home, a stone's throw from where I was on September 11, 2001. I was "lurking" on Twitter and spotted a retweet about Obama making a surprise announcement at 10:30pm. I knew it had to be something major. 10:30 came and went, and ABC broke into Brothers and Sisters to cover the event. After some minutes, the topic of the address was announced and I was surprised. But not shocked.

I haven't been shocked in a very long time. Ten years is a long time. People grow up, technology advances, generations are born, sentiments change. Ten years is enough time for someone to grow used to certain ways of life. And ten years is a long time to spend looking for one person, no matter who they are and how big of a threat they are. I don't think I've ever been angry at Osama bin Laden for what he did, but I've been deeply saddened. There will always, always be someone who doesn't like us or even hates us as a country and for what we represent. That will never change, whether Osama is alive or dead. More likely than not, there will be someone to carry on his work.

Terrorists existed well before September 11th and they will continue to exist now. An era has come to an end, but our mission is not accomplished. As a lifelong New Yorker, I remain cautiously optimistic ... but adaptable too. Life carried on on September 12, 2001 as it had in the early hours of September 11, 2001 as I got ready for school. I have never lived my life out of fear of terrorism, but perhaps for that reason I don't feel the jubilance or pride so many Americans now feel over Osama's death. I don't feel any more or less safe than I did yesterday.

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