Monday, September 12, 2011

Growing up with 9-11

Many news outlets, some of them out of touch with young people, will try to tell you college students barely remember September 11, that the event was a relatively inconsequential moment in our lives that the media must recreate for us in some sort of sensory experience every year. These people are full of shit. 

Even the youngest college students were in third grade when September 11 happened, which I remember being the age at which I began to understand the significance of world events. When I was in third grade, people all across the world were paranoid about the Y2K bug. When clocks hit midnight in Sydney to mark the beginning of the 21st Century, a reporter went to an ATM to make a cash withdrawal. The machine worked, and I then understood that the world wasn’t ending. 

Young college students do not, and will never, need to be reminded of what happened on 9-11, we remember it perfectly well. And unlike the adults in our life who sometimes flirt with nostalgia for the feelings of post-9-11 national unity, we never really want to return to the way we felt as terrified children living in seemingly terrifying world.

Some kids like me, who grew up thousands of miles away from New York or Washington, say they’re members of the “9-11 generation.” I prefer avoiding that moniker. For my entire childhood, 9-11 felt like a nagging presence in my life, something I grew up hating and wishing had never happened. It wasn’t a generation-defining moment, but instead, at least for my peers and me, it was a force we constantly tried to eliminate from our lives. 

"If you’re afraid, then the terrorists win," was an extremely difficult concept for a 10-year-old to buy into at the time. Boarding an airplane after 9-11 seemed like a death sentence to me, and I did it more than I would’ve liked when I was younger. The sound of construction in a major city was enough to make my heart stop and want to turn around and go back. But there was nothing I could do, and eventually my paranoia folded into anger. As a middle schooler, I naïvely hated Democrats because I legitimately believed the country would fall to its knees if John Kerry were president. 

Of course, the world isn’t like that anymore. But despite the polarized political climate we live in, and in light of all the lost jobs and the lost bargaining rights and lost opportunity, I’d still rather live as a young child in this decade than deal with the genuine terror that tainted my generation’s childhood. 

I never want my kids to have to grow up with anything like 9-11 tarnishing the memories of their childhoods. I’ll never be nostalgic for the years between 2001 and 2004. Neither will anyone else who grew up in fear after 9-11. 

[UPDATE 9-12-11 4:05 p.m.] This piece was not a reaction to today’s Daily Cardinal feature about the “9-11 Generation.” I didn’t realize they would title their piece thus. But I still don’t like the term.