Sara Rubin writing on this somber day, 20 years after the Sept. 11 attacks altered the course of history. It wasn’t until a few years after the attacks, however, that I realized how much that day influenced history.
At the time of the attacks, it felt to me like a personal event, not a global one. I was a high school student in northern New Jersey then, experiencing much of the day from my homeroom classroom, where we’d all been instructed to return as the news unfolded. It was a day of emotion and uncertainty as countless students, classroom by classroom, got in line to use the administrative office phone to contact their parents who worked in or near the World Trade Center. A handful of people then had cell phones, and they were passed around on that long line. The stories began to tumble in—one dad was unharmed, but there was no way back to New Jersey from New York, so he walked home, something like 12 miles.
Not everyone succeeded at making contact. There was so much uncertainty that day that it’s hard now for me to remember when we learned about those who had died; one father who had attended many of my childhood cello recitals, when I played alongside his son, another friend’s stepdad. One teacher’s belongings in her New Jersey apartment were ruined due to ash and smoke. It felt like a personal sorrow more than a political act.
It’s now two decades later. I’ve been to the 9/11 memorial to see the names I knew, and wonder what the lives of those families are like today. What I know is that that day surely changed their lives forever.
What’s harder to know is how exactly 9/11 changed America. What, exactly, might have been otherwise? Because of 9/11 the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were waged, with fragile results. Things would be different today for Afghans, certainly, but so many of the freedoms they won are being rolled back as we speak. At home the Patriot Act set the stage for mass government surveillance, and though the 2015 Freedom Act wound back some of its provisions, I came of age in a generation where privacy was understood to be just an idea, not a reality. Would we have digital privacy otherwise? I doubt it.
Even as the war in Afghanistan has come to an end, the U.S. war on terror has become its own kind of “forever war,” as Karen J. Greenberg wrote in a recent opinion piece. It’s the framework for the world in which I became an adult, in a nation at war.
But today is a day for remembrance and grief and solemnity, not a day for answering these unanswerable questions. Expect to see flags at half-mast today, a reminder to mourn for the people who died that day, and in the wars that followed.
And if you would like to participate in a formal commemoration, there are various events with local fire and police officials. From 8-9:30am, there is a procession in Seaside, from 1365 Broadway Ave. to City Hall; at 8:15am, a gathering at Marina United Methodist Church on 281 beach Road; at 9am, a ceremony begins in Carmel at Devendorf Park; at 10am, a ceremony begins in Salinas at Fire Station 1, 216 W. Alisal St.; and at noon, a procession begins in King City at King City High School and heads to the fire and police departments.
However you honor the memory of those we lost on 9/11 and what has changed in the 20 years since, here’s to a peaceful future.