Fourteen years ago, I became an adult. I graduated from college. I got married. I got a job. These milestones alone don’t make an adult. But it was in that year, 2001, that I took responsibility for myself outside of my parents’ nest. They would no longer be depositing money in a meal plan, holding me to a curfew, or tucking me in on holidays at home. My husband and I were the newest extension of my parents’ nuclear family.
Fourteen years ago, my childhood innocence was lost. But not because I became an adult. Many of us lost a bit of childlike trust in the world on September 11, 2001. Loss of innocence, a fairly common theme in fiction, is not just a coming of age. A loss of innocence, according to Wikipedia, is an experience or period that widens one’s awareness of evil, pain or suffering in the world around them. My generation had not witnessed The Great Depression, the horrors of WWII or The Vietnam War like our grandparents and parents. But the kind of nightmare that rocked our country to the core on September 11th took the innocence of many young adults with it.
Less than three months into my newly minted adulthood and marriage, the terrorists tried to break us. They devastated our country with four doomed flights that stole thousands of precious lives – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and best friends. Again – a kind of devastation my generation had not yet seen in our country.
My 9/11 experience was not particularly unique. The news of the strike on World Trade Center Tower 1 flashed across my television screen in our Dallas apartment. As the nightmare unraveled, I was able to reach my husband, Ryan, who had safely landed in Chicago for a business trip. He had no idea of the gravity of the situation when I reached out to him to make sure he was safe. For several days, he was stuck in Chicago. I later found out he had been working in the Sears Tower. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. My parents were home in Georgia. I witnessed a tragedy unfold – one greater than any of us could have imagined- as an adult by myself. I wasn’t in New York, like so many people I know. I didn’t lose a loved one. I can’t even imagine the pain. But the world changed that day. And so did I.
The world changed because I realized we could no longer trust it. Our insulated, powerful, country built on the tenants of freedom was crippled. But our great nation was not paralyzed.
That terrible night, President Bush addressed our nation:
“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts… Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror… These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve…This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” –George W. Bush
Not everyone agrees with the wartime decisions President Bush made after 9/11. But the President’s powerful words of consolation and resolve on this dark night gave me great comfort as a young adult who suddenly felt very vulnerable. His charge to unite a great people gave our country strength in our fight against such evil. And, for me now, his words on 9/11 serve as reminder of that horrible day and the painful rebuilding process that would follow. Many noble lives of our brave military men and women were lost as they fought for our safety and freedom in the years to come.
Fourteen years later, we have not forgotten. A simple click on today’s news media or Facebook brings to life many vivid memories and horrific experiences. And with those stories and graphic pictures as a reminder, we Americans continue to share a resolve for a strong and peaceful nation and world.
For the first time, this year, my own children are aware of what happened on 9/11, and they are asking questions. In a day and age when terrorists are motivated by a desire to repress basic rights and bully innocent victims, I pray that we can take a moment to examine how we might do the opposite in our own personal spheres of influence.
My hope and prayer is that the generation of young parents today who lost a sense of innocence on September 11, 2001 will raise a generation of children who seek to love and show grace, even – maybe especially – to people who hold different beliefs and practices. As a basic starting place – prejudice, discrimination and bullying are simply unacceptable.
Fourteen years ago, my childhood innocence was lost. But our great country has found resolve. As President Bush urged us, let us continue “to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” You in your corner, and me in mine.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:8-9
***This year on the 4th of July, we had the honor of saluting the US flag shown in the picture above. It had flown over Syria just two weeks before as our military heroes fight ISIS to defend our freedom and safety.***