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17 to 27...Life after 9/11

I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. Counting down the days until college. My cynical, bordering on bitter views were only about to catapult to the height of what was the Twin Towers. Coming off 8 years of nothing but a stained dress, the majority of citizens, especially my peers at the time, took living in our country majorly for granted. They felt patriotism but without the background or understanding. Elementary and middle school U.S. History and/or American Government in high school did not prepare us for the inherent, even life-threatening level of patriotism we’d soon exhibit. Every single cognitive human being about to don red, white and blue and stick a flag in their yard was about to lose their proverbial innocence, thanks to a few nut-log anti-capitalism, western living haters on September 11th, 2001. At this point, I don’t think about 9/11 on a daily basis, probably not even weekly. I do happen to glance at the clock at 9:11 frequently, but I’m too logical to consider that anything but coincidence. The fact that I always see 11:11 and 7:11 as well makes me think I’m glancing at the clock too much. I’m always reminding myself and others of presence and constantly checking the time is the antithesis of that practice. But I digress. The fact of the matter is 9/11 changed me as much as anyone else old enough to understand that day, and what I received was a crash-course on the world we live in, a violent place sporadically strewn with love and beauty.

Walking into my college English class at approximately 8:05 in the morning (I cannot remember accurately, forgive me), I noticed my liberal, rebellious teacher had the television on, and one of the big, ugly rectangular (please admit now that they were ugly, it’s still a tragedy, don’t get your panties in a bunch, but just because they were tall doesn’t mean they were some feat of modern architecture) skyscrapers were in flames. In a matter of weeks I was about to embark on my first trip to NYC, to say I was excited would of course be a vast understatement. The image on the screen confused me, my mind didn’t immediately know it was terrorism, nor did it recognize today was 9/11, clearly someone was deliberately inflicting a nationwide emergency on us, but my naive, albeit skeptical mind still couldn’t comprehend this. I sat in silence, stunned, while my idiot classmates laughed and high-fived over not having class. See why I was excited to graduate? And also why I was single? I was no picnic either, but at least I was mature enough to know to shut the hell up and not be happy about it.

Watching the second tower get drilled by the west coast bound plane solidified the terrorist theory and watching the first tower burn to the ground propelled a new fear, sadness and compassion I never knew existed. All I thought was, holy shit, all those people, what a horrible, lonely, frightening way to die. The images of firefighters running up the towers are burned (forgive the pun) in my brain and make me think if losing a specific group that day was more sad than another, it was the first responders, those displaying bravery most in our country could never equate to. We arrogantly proclaim to support the troops and often cheer our military on as we fly over countries none of us have been as they drop bombs on strangers, killing people we’ll never know and couldn’t have possibly, ever understood. That element of patriotism I’ll never comprehend or endorse, I’m sorry.

Not to be a downer on this day, but we need to face facts. Here’s how we’re worse: Religious intolerance- we’re all probably guilty of racial profiling, and instead of questioning the legitimacy of our own beliefs and what potential negative consequences strict religious allegiance can bring about, we seemingly delved deeper into our chosen organized religion (probably a denomination of Christianity) and let our discrimination and ignorance expand over Muslim people and their beliefs. Blindly following politicians- Because of the initial fear over 9/11 and our subsequent terror over anything resembling the middle-east, the majority of us swallowed the ugly war in Iraq pill wanting to believe so desperately we needed to be there. We didn’t. Nothing positive has emerged from this war; only unnecessary death, the ever-expanding deficit, astronomical costs on oil which we seem hell-bent on depending and the loss of previously respected and productive relationships with foreign countries. Afghanistan was understandable, but our current president needs to do more to get us out of there. Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan for years and is now dead, let’s move on to stifling more legitimate threats like Iran and North Korea. Treatment of those we hold so dear- My cousin/older brother Eric (Cuzzy as we call each other) is one inspired by the tragic events inflicted on our country and decided to become a member of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. He is dedicated, loyal, never complains, just works, and their antiquated and arbitrary methods of advancement have screwed him time and time again. He’s been injured and affected physically, most likely emotionally as well, after many fires, seen unimaginably grim life-situations and disturbing levels of death. Does he talk about it, brag about it, ask the government for recognition, support, money? No. And similar to the first responders still struggling to receive their government help, Cuzzy and his beautiful, hard-working elementary school teacher wife, Angie, consistently receive cuts or the status quo and it’s bullshit. If anything this tragedy should force us to suck it up and spend the extra money on Education and those working in fields most of us could not stomach, and not just the military either. That is a cop-out. The levels of waste on the federal level I have personally witnessed would anger even the most conservative, freedom loving person. It needs to change. And I really hope it does.

Please have a rational, open enough mind to understand why I wrote what I did above. I love this country and similar to my love for myself, I expect the damn best out of it. I don’t begin to believe I understand the depth of our financial difficulties or how to solve them, nor would I want to be burdened with that responsibility, but my hope is when reminded of how we all felt the afternoon of 9/11, that same unity will re-emerge in that overgrown high school that is Washington D.C. I’m probably under the disenfranchised youth umbrella but I am informed and do choose to vote. I read, watch various news programs (not simply one channel whose non-objective analysts conveniently hold my beliefs), and engage in discussions with people smarter and wiser than I. This only exacerbates my frustration, but for some reason, within all this madness, all the exposure of our politicians being seedy little liars, I still feel tremendous hope. And here comes the positive.

Once my peers mommies and daddies sat their teenaged lazy asses down and explained how getting to watch TV all day in class was, in fact, not a good thing, quite the contrary, my classmates started to mature, slowly, and we all collaborated on some pretty gnarly patriotism. National pride can see many ugly consequences, as I’ve watched over these past 10 years, but then it was so pure, sweet even. Those not even understanding our constitution started voraciously reading it, along with other pertinent American history documents. Although it was fairly niche focused reading, 9/11 inspired it, and that’s never a bad thing.

Opposing the aforementioned, for a percentage of us, that day in September brought about our own catharsis, and therefore, a new understanding and tolerance of others. Perhaps to rebel against those acting in opposition, I led the way via my opinions and actions my Freshman year of college, arguing for religious and racial acceptance, and I was not alone. Regardless what some harbor inside, outwardly most at the very least attempt to accept everyone, knowing it is at the very core of our constitution and what typically lifts the United States above our less evolved fellow countries. Freedom of Speech is alive and well here, for better or worse, and although I’d like to squelch the constantly squawking mouths of some, I’m grateful, as a woman and human being, that I can express my opinion, no matter how outrageous, in a civilized manner.

Love. I felt much more loving after that day. I wholeheartedly admit my residence in the bitter barn throughout the majority of my teenage years. A by-product of my parents’ and family members’ divorces, combined with my inquisitive and cynical nature, a protective shell was sure to form, and it did, right with the Fuck You on my forehead (I was told I had this at around 20, so this is not me saying this, clearly I was projecting it. That was first love nonsense and nothing else). I think this common experience brought many together, some that may not have otherwise, and it led to more debate and open discussion we’ve seen since the Kennedy assassination. For me, tired of my loneliness and otherwise wuss ways of the heart, I opened myself to a non-deserving idiot and got my heart-broken, spending 3 years single and lonely. Sounds depressing, right? No, I was inspired to open myself up, I did, enjoying it for a short time, and then I was much more selective, only leading to a few other dating experiences and then meeting my hot piece of man with whom I’m currently betrothed. Not too shabby. It was slow, but 9/11 lead to 9/22, my eventual wedding date.

This is more of a journal entry on a day that inspires reflection. I’ve always been a thinker and a dreamer, and that awful day led to some nightmares, but mostly I feel it thrusted that deep “grab life by the balls” mentality and not taking anything for granted. So I don’t. I have little to no unnecessary drama, amongst family and friends. Only love, laughter and food. We may not all agree politically, or religiously, but we know the love of each other predominates anything else, and that bond is indestructible. No terrorist can touch what is so simple, primal and strong, and that is love. Americans shoved a big Fuck You up haters throats when we unified, loved not only the known, but strangers and unknown loving, liberty lobbyists as well, American dream in tact, never to be destroyed.

We all have our personal 9/11’s, we’ve experienced our own this summer, and the same epiphany emerged 10 years later. All you need is Love. And locate your balls and go for your dreams. Poetic, isn’t it? I always wanted to live in Italy and for three years, I did. Same with NYC, and after 8 years of multiple trips and visits, I parked my ass there for a few months and embarked on Yoga teacher training, a life-changing adventure full of lessons, fun times and some incredible, lasting friends. Now, while teaching Yoga throughout Chicago, I’m pursuing another dream, writing. The same perspective 9/11 instilled in us all that day has reverberating effects. I will not waste my life, sacrifice my dreams, or overlook the importance of loved ones. If those still living in fear from their horrible experience that day could only relinquish that fear and gain the lesson that has benefited me and others, this country and their personal world would be a more benevolent place. That may sound pageanty, but my personal experience with this brings some credibility, and the copious amounts of people who got on with it and didn’t look back, like my Cuzzy.

I hope things continue to progress because we certainly cannot continue to live in the mediocrity we’ve created. Change is necessary for progression and for our country to remain an example others wish to emulate. People sneak into this country for a reason, let’s work to keep that desire alive. The idea of America is alive and well. My family and friends give me reason to believe. Keep hope, and love, alive.