By Gena Anderson | firstname.lastname@example.org
For two weeks after 9/11, I slept under my small wooden desk. I was 10 years old, wrapped up in a “Lion King” sleeping bag, listening to a conservative news radio show on my blue boom box in the panhandle of Florida.
We all remember where we were when we found out, some more vividly than others. I was in my fifth grade gifted classroom. But what sticks out most in my mind is sleeping on the floor with my radio.
Everywhere I went, I was plugged in. I flipped through channels and spun the dial on my radio craving information. I wanted news about what was happening in the world.
Before that I hadn’t ever really thought about the world. I knew all of the states in alphabetical order and most of their capitals, but I never really thought about them.
Before 9/11, New York City was worlds away. During those two weeks it could have been my backyard. I had never really talked about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran before.
The Middle East was not a place I had heard much about. What did Mesopotamia have against us?
War was a new concept. Wars were grand battles fought before I was born — it was a reason we were nice to veterans. Then overnight we were in one. Though I understood the words of that radio announcer, I couldn’t at the time fully grasp the weight of them.
The day after 9/11, “kamikaze” was my class’ spelling word. The definition on the board said it was a Japanese word that meant “divine wind” and was used as a name for suicide pilots. I was worried, briefly, that Japan was in on it, too.
We were children, and though I wish I could say that we were rational and understood the social and political aspects, I would be lying. I remember hearing rumors that the school might be bombed and how they caused me to worry.
All of a sudden I knew that there were roads that led to places I had never thought about. That with little effort you could catch a few planes all the way around the world and back.
I became aware of how vast this planet is, but that the distance between point A and point B was easily conquered and how small that made it feel. I felt my security threatened because I was told that it had been.
Now, at the ripe old age of 20, I can tell you that I still don’t think I have the answers I wanted when I was 10. Why did this happen? What could we have done to make people hate us so much? Are we reacting in the best manner possible?
After 9/11, my country was not a land mass made up of funny-shaped colored pieces, but a group of people I didn’t know, yet somehow loved regardless.
I have a friend who grew up in the same small conservative community as me who decided to become a Marine because of 9/11. I fully support his decisions to follow his heart, which bleeds for this country and its people.
Another friend is from India and tells me that my country is on its way to ruin. He calls the U.S. hypocritical and likes to remind me of all of the innocents we have put to death for whatever reason we found to justify it.
My beliefs and opinions stand somewhere between the two.
But I became a part of something that day. I joined the world. I learned about the true definition of “we” — a group of people, any group. I joined my community, my state, my nation, and my world.
I learned that the right answer doesn’t exist and that wars happen; that in a room of two people there will always be two different answers on how we could have handled this better.
I learned that safe is a feeling more than a state of being and that I am small, but that my impact has only the restrictions I give it.