Tragedy

Fifteen Years

I can’t believe it has been fifteen years today. Fifteen years since I learned the world wasn’t as safe as I thought. Fifteen years since we were attacked on American soil in a big way that I was able to comprehend. Fifteen years since I sat glued to the television, watching as the second plane hit, people jumped to their deaths, the buildings collapsed, the footage of flight 93, and the footage of the Pentagon.  We watched in each class as the body count grew higher and higher. I cried in the hallway with Mrs. Wilcher and other kids didn’t understand why I was so upset.  Throughout the whole day, I only remember one teacher turning the television off for any length of time. Thank you, Mrs. Shope.

September 11,2001 was the beginning of a very long (and still continuing) anxiety ride for me. It was the most frightened I have ever been. It shaped my world view and affected my decision making abilities. Even though the attacks happened over 500 miles away, the effects were immediate and long lasting. To this day, when I see a plane flying what I perceive as too low, my heart starts pounding and my hands get sweaty.  Even though I still have so much residual anxiety, the attack desensitized me to violence in many ways. SO many people died that day- 2,996- and so many people have died of related causes since- somewhere around 1,000- that other disasters don’t seem as bad to me, even though any loss of human life is a tragedy.  I remember watching the news about the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and thinking, “oh, that’s not too bad.  At least it was only seven people.” The death count from September 11, 2001 has somehow become a type of gauge to me for measuring other disasters, and I’m rather uncomfortable with that.

The most formative event of my youth and one of the most formative of my life, I don’t see how there could possibly be a time in my life where 9/11 is no longer this enormous black spot.  I even have a morbid collection of 9/11 “memorabilia.” DVDs of the news footage, documentaries, magazines, and even the New York Times from September 12, 2001.  At times, 9/11 is less consuming, but it is and always will be a part of my life and who I am as a person.

I didn’t know any of the people I watched die on live television, but I knew that they were people’s brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and friends. I had never considered before that day that something so horrible could happen to friends and family members. I had also never watched people die on live tv before.  Now days, when there are tragedies happening around the world that the news deems worthy of covering, I elect to read about them on Twitter, Facebook, and newspaper websites instead of watching them unfold on television. The anxiety is just too much and I know first hand what effect watching events live can have on a person.

On the other side of things, I have never felt profoundly happy at the news of a person’s death as I was in May of 2011 when Twitter started blowing up that the president was going to make an announcement.  Twitter was full of speculation that Obama would announce Bin Laden’s death and the President’s announcement did not disappoint. Almost ten years later, the man who orchestrated the attacks was finally dead. 

In closing, time has passed and the bipolar disorder and medications for it have affected my memory in some pretty big ways, but I will never forget September 11, 2001 or the way I felt that day.  I will also never forget the somewhat magical sense of community that existed in the months following the attack. I have never seen our nation come together in that way before or since, but it’s comforting to know we are capable of doing so.

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