When I was younger, I could sit through a wedding and not cry. When I was younger, I would laugh if an adult yelled at me. When I was younger, I needed my daddy to check my closet before I could fall asleep… Because when I was younger, my third-grade heart wasn’t yet equipped with the emotional capacity it took to fully conceptualize the feelings of joy, accountability, or reality- let alone the ability to empathize a national tragedy. A national tragedy that I would eventually write about and make sense of eleven years later.
On September 11th, 2001, I was a little girl excited for her ninth birthday two weeks around the corner, sitting in a class room wondering why her teacher stopped class to watch this “uninteresting, explosion movie.” I had no idea that my heart could—and would—grow so much. I had no idea that on September 11th, 2001, there were other hearts, lives, and real people with real feelings outside of West Grove Elementary School. I had no idea that on September 11th, 2001, what was an “uninteresting, explosion movie” to me… was “hell on earth” to so many.
For us to remember this national tragedy, we first need to understand it—my generation at least. It was a normal day, like the normal day we are experiencing right now. Although our minds are incapable of truly recreating these feelings, we can try to imagine an abrupt, undeserving, fatal interruption of this normal day. Can you imagine such an unpredictable interruption without goodbyes to your loved ones that end your life, along with 2,819 other American lives, on a seemingly normal day? Consider this more relatable scenario: your best friend Lauren dies in a car crash. A police officer working the scene dies trying to save her. You’re indescribably sad over the loss and feel alone. You wish you could have some last words; there was so much left unsaid. Lauren’s mother is submitted to a mental hospital because she couldn’t cope. Somewhere in the world, the family of the innocent police officer grieves over their lost hero. And what about Lauren? Her aspirations, relationships, and development as a person all come to an end. Multiply that by 2,819, and add to it the element of a terrorist attack that demands a counter. On a seemingly normal day, 2,819 life-journeys, each with their specific endeavors, were interrupted abruptly, undeservingly, and fatally in America’s most recent national tragedy 11 years ago.
America has a history of fighting for every free day we have lived, a current that fights for this exact free day, and a future that will fight for the free days to come. There is controversy over the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks plotted against our great nation, The United States of America. When I was younger, I couldn’t tell you the difference between love and indifference. As a third grader, I could however, tell you the difference between love and hate; their difference is easy and opposite—much similar to the difference between America and our extremist enemies. Somewhere along the eleven years of my aging and experience since the historic 9/11, I learned how to differentiate. Revenge, as a verb, is defined as to “inflict hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong done to oneself.” Self-defense is defined in law as “the right to protect oneself against violence or threatened violence with whatever force or means are reasonably necessary.” With hate, there is revenge. A crime of hate was committed against The United States of America in the form of a terrorist attack. However, America responded with self-defense, not revenge. This act of self-defense was out of love of the American citizens whose lives turned into a memory on that September day.
I am proud to be an American. I am so thankful that we have a spectrum of American heroes: from every-day citizens, to the firefighters and paramedics (including the 343 who died that day), to the police force (including the 23 NYPD who died that day), to the soldiers who have fought and continue to fight for our protection and preservation of our freedom, all the way to the navy seal team who took out our nation’s enemy. I am proud to be an American.
When I was younger, I may have thought the moral of the story was that “you don’t know what you have until it is gone.” In 2001, Alyssa Andrews was a little girl anxiously awaiting her ninth birthday, oblivious to the world around her and a complete stranger to empathy. In 2012, Alyssa Andrews is a young woman with a lot more on her mind than a twentieth birthday. She can’t sit through a wedding without tears of joy streaming down her face. If she is subjected to disproval, she holds herself accountable and hangs on that failure throughout her quest to correct it; she sure as heck doesn’t laugh about it. She doesn’t ask her father to drive to her apartment to check for a generic threat residing in her closet; her concept of reality is now in check. Eleven years have gone by since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which makes the moral clear now. The moral here is not the somewhat naïve, while definitely cliché “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The moral is appreciation. The significance of the former is that it is an unfavorable consequence of failing to recognize the latter. I am nearly twenty years old and am just learning to appreciate the value of a dollar, let alone the value of a human life.
Although my parents were teaching students and policing roads in Indiana that day, it is estimated that 3,051 children lost a parent. Many of these kids are now also my age and some under 18. There are new memorials and museums that help the kids directly affected understand the gravity of what has happened.
I wrote this blog to show my true appreciation and sincerest attempt of empathizing a national tragedy with America. As a little girl, I lacked the emotional capacity required to conceptualize this and apply it to my life at West Grove Elementary School. All I could do at the time was pray to God to please protect and be with the families and the nation during such disheartening times. The great thing about prayers is that they don’t require experience or advanced understanding. Thank you to all of our nation’s heroes. You and this day will forever be in America’s hearts and prayers. American lives weren’t ended for nothing and American soldiers aren’t fighting for nothing; we appreciate you.
Here's another tribute video to my favorite song in memory of 9/11, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"