Marquette Wire

GAMBLE: Childhood to adulthood: 9/11 ten years later

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Taped to my bedroom wall is a piece of paper that reads, “A lot can happen in ten years.”

A statement of the obvious. You can sail around the world in four months, earn a college degree in four years. At this point, 10 years constitutes about half of our lives. So much can happen, and at such a rapid pace that we hardly notice.

Ten years have passed since about 3,000 businesspeople, pilots, firefighters, cops, priests and civilians were killed by plane crashes and collapsing buildings in the most brutal terrorist attack in American history. I remember the day it happened, being 11 years old and bewildered beyond words.

That confusion has stuck.

Everything else is fluid, all part of the ebb and flow of getting older: sorrow subsiding, routines resuming, one of America’s greatest tragedies becoming less newsworthy and — ironically — seeming more overplayed. We board planes, fill stadiums and can no longer be bothered with the terror we once thought 9/11 would never let us forget.

Maybe that’s our biggest victory: Walking past a field of 3,000 mini American flags on the way to class, sitting in Sunday morning services with people whose skin is darker or lighter than ours. Moving forward. Just being normal.

But normal has become so normal that remembering feels peculiar.

Before I wrote this, I sat at the Brew and looked at 100 pictures from 9/11 on TIME Magazine’s website. Most of the images hit me hard: Firefighters warding off tears at each other’s funerals or mourners falling to their knees at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, each dressed in uniforms and business clothes, a disturbing dichotomy between ordinary and unsteady.

One picture showed a Florida firefighter sitting on a bench at Ground Zero, his name and address Sharpied on his forearm to ease the search in case he was killed on the job.

That was it for me. I moved my things from my friends’ table to a seat at the counter until I dried my eye sockets.

Having not shed a tear for 10 straight years and then losing my composure to a photo collection, I felt like a fraud. Where have I been for the past 10 years?

Every Sept. 11 in the past decade, I have felt nothing but relief that our country made it through another year with our skylines intact, anxious to just push the attacks further and further away from the present.

But this year, I’ve had no choice but to reflect, not only because of the extensive news coverage, but because of the truth: I’m not a kid anymore.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 means more to our generation than any other. In 2001, our parents shielded us from the graphic images and most of our information came through grapevines, only deepening our confusion.

Now we’ve taken theology courses that have uncovered the basic pillars of Islam, and we’ve read enough newspapers to know that the terrorist attacks had nothing to do with religion at all. We’ve watched all the footage, we’ve seen all the pictures and we’ve even sent some of our closest friends off to fight in a war that we’ve either voted to end or to prolong. Our country isn’t just something we watch through a TV screen anymore; it’s a place we’re shaping.

And we know it isn’t perfect, but we’ve learned that it’s resilient. It’s a place where we’ll drive for miles to offer our help, names on our forearms, knowing that when normal feels like normal again, we will forget the pain and just remember the strength that brought us through it.

A lot can change in a decade, but that won’t.

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