On September 11, 2001, I went to school, I had just begun grade 12. When the attacks began, I was sitting in the cafeteria. Somebody mentioned it. I said something callous and cold, not thinking of the lives affected or how serious it was., I went to the music store to buy something at lunch time (because that's what I did on Tuesdays). I don't remember what. I listened to the radio in the car on the way back to the school. I imagined what it was like. In the afternoon, the principal made an announcement over the PA to try and quell any rumours or fears. It didn't work. We found out as a class that the newspaper was releasing an evening edition, the first in our lifetimes. I went home and found my father hunched over on the couch, smoking constantly and staring at CNN. The world had changed and I had no clue.
The next few days were business as usual. I live in Winnipeg, a city not directly affected by the attacks. We went to school, went to work, put gas in our cars, watched the news and thought about what we were going to do on the weekend. The chief difference was that everybody seemed a lot more quiet. Like a city-wide hush has descended on us like a fog.
In the weeks that followed, I was outraged that the US government was carpet-bombing Afghanistan. It didn't seem right. I wasn't swept up in the jingoistic fervor of rah rah we stand together or whatever. I rolled my eyes at people with "united we stand" bumper stickers, as if buying them meant anything at all. I was upset with the commercializing of the attacks so quickly: infomercials and ads asking us to buy. I was embarrassed that the government asked us to go shopping to improve the economy.
Or at least, this is how I remember it. I certainly don't remember thinking of the actual people who lost their lives or the lives affected. I certainly don't recollect taking the time to think about it in a larger historical sense. It was simply an event that I had been a witness to, an event where I was alive as opposed to not existing yet.
It really wasn't until about a couple years ago when the event really starting sinking in. I admit to being self-centered and self-absorbed, so external stimuli often take their time reaching my emotions. My difficult relationship with religion reached its current chapter (resigned to living with it) and this is in part to the religious fervor and (rarely) outright insanity brought on by the initial attacks.
I had never encountered before such idiocy before Sept 11. Everything I hated about religion was thrown in my face. Racism reached a zenith it seemed. I knew only a few "Middle-Eastern" kids in my school, and they didn't seem affected by it at all, thankfully, but watching the news and reading the Internet brought a different story. It seemed that the world had gone crazy, looked to their respective God and decided to blame it on the other side's God.
It had already become important to watch how one speaks. I was in grade 10 when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (names that I will never forget) changed high school irrevocably. Instead of being a place of learning, my high school became a hotbed of suspicion and fear. Innocent people were accused of malicious planning and our administration's investigations seemingly became their sole duty. By the time 9/11 had rolled around, a careful and precarious feeling had already crept into our school. This became exacerbated by the attacks. It know became important that you constantly watch your mouth and you hoped to God that nobody heard you say something anti-American, a sentiment shared but unspoken among my friends.
As religious invective became more heated, as the school environment became more tense, I was in the middle of my current cultural chapter: Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh, among others. This was the era in which I read No Logo by Naomi Klein and Adbusters magazine. My distaste for anything mainstream or anything my parents did was at its apex. I thought I knew everything. I was arrogant, annoying, and with only a few people I could confidently call my friends.
In the two or three years after 9/11, when I went to university and didn't make any substantial or real friends, I retreated further and further into myself. A lot of people my age became political and protested and became interested in the world outside themselves. I was the opposite. I walked in an internal world of my own making, where 9/11 didn't really touch me in the slightest. Instead of imagining the loss of thousands, and trying to understand how this new world works, I chose to read and write narcissistic, solipsistic fiction that didn't account for the outside world.
I grieve for my younger self. I'm embarrassed for my younger self, the hardened cynic who thinks he understands the world but really it was through the lens of "edgy" writers, movies and music. I knew that I didn't care about George W Bush and I was already tired of people calling him the worst president (honestly, he's not). I walked around jaded and uncaring, uncouth and without manners, alienating my friends and making zero new friends.
I rolled my eyes so much, I'm amazed I didn't injure them. Who the fuck did I think I was? When all these people, these untold thousands of people had their lives changed over a few hours, there I was reading fucking Fight Club and thinking I was above it all. Let the mere mortals fight over their oil, I seemed to say.
I'm 26 years old, turning 27 in November. I'm older, wiser, but I'm still not mature. Somebody called me immature for my age the other day. I'm still irreverent and self-absorbed, but not nearly as much. In the ten years since September 11th, I graduated high school and university, bought my first real car, had my first real girlfriend, had another one, moved out of my parents' house, got an apartment, had my heart broken twice, and read about a million books. To this day, I'm not personally affected by September 11. To this very day, I remain unscathed and untouched by terrorism.
On September 11, 2011, I could download the newest releases, go to class and make the same jokes, if I wanted to, because I have nothing personal staked in this day. But I'm not going to make my stupid jokes or say something overly political.
It's going to be business as usual: I'll go to class and probably work. I'll go to the gym and try and eat right. I'll probably read whatever book I'm reading. But I won't say something stupid. I won't do anything that could potentially hurt someone affected by 9/11.
I can't say that I understand the tragedy or the pain felt by millions. I can't say that in the past ten years, I came to an epiphany over what it feels like to experience real loss. But I can say this: since 9/11 I have emerged from myself and found the world to be a staggeringly scary place, filled with awesome and terrible things and people who hurt one another for no reason. The inhumanity and misanthropy shown every fucking day in my own city, let alone the rest of the world has made me understand, a quantum of knowledge, that the 9/11 was a tragedy that no one should have ever suffered through, but they did, and that is the reality of the world.
September 11 2001 changed the world, and it didn't change the world. It brought the reality of the rest of the world to North America. This is how it is every where and always has been, it's just this is the first time my generation has really seen it. Chaos, pain, blood, death and all without any logic. It's just violence, violence everywhere.
In solidarity with the rest of the world, now that I have this small tiny quantum of knowledge, I'm going to respect those affected by 9/11. I'm going to watch the news, the coverage of the memorials and events, and I'm going to reflect on this, and I'm going to hug my parents and thank them for providing me with my calm stable life where the only tragedies are when I don't listen to my mother's advice. I'm going to thank my lucky stars that I didn't have to live through what people are living through all over the world right now and before.
I understand now why people had bumper stickers proclaiming "united we stand". I get it now. It's not about superficially showing that you're getting on the bandwagon, as I suspected it was. The bumper stickers, or rather the sentiment of "united we stand" was to show that you could potentially conceive of such tragedy and that you wished it hadn't happened. The sentiment was to show that you could think of somebody other than yourself. It took me ten long years, but I can do it.