Every year, on this day, when I wake in the morning and look at the calendar, it's just another day… but then I see my phone screen displaying today’s date to me. The phone tells me that it’s Nine Eleven, and I get a sinking pit of a feeling in my stomach. A feeling of doom and gloom. It feels like in a nightmare when I am falling and there is no end ever to the fall; and then wake up scared to death. But that feeling stays with me all day. It’s a feeling of aching and utter real, raw, sadness. And I feel it every single year, without fail, on September 11.
From that point forward in the morning it becomes a very different day than any other of the calendar year. It becomes a very difficult day for me. A day I push myself forward with an extra amount of force. Force necessary to complete my tasks and go about a normal day of activity.
Saying good morning to my husband. And then our first words to each other this day: ‘It’s Nine Eleven.’
Talking on the phone.
Reading and watching the news.
Going to the library.
Tipping the barista a bit extra today at Starbucks.
Crying as I write this.
Choosing a very happy comedy or adventure-filled film to watch this evening with my husband, and my dog-who didn’t live through that day upon this Earth. Choosing a comedic film to not add any more sadness to my day than necessary.
Saying goodnight to the most solemn and somber day of the year.
On Nine Eleven, 2001, I was at the very beginning of my junior year of college. I abruptly quit the cross country team at the start of that school year, after two years of running NCAA Division III collegiate athletics. I always thought it was a rash decision, but I went with my gut, and my gut feeling does not fail me. I also quit winter and spring track, right then and there as well. Fiercely independent - I had always wanted and craved to run on my own; and this decision allowed me to give more time and focus toward my very expensive college education. My grades were not where I wanted them to be. I only had so much time and energy; I was spreading myself too thin. I was confident in my decision and never wavered from it.
My grades immediately improved with that action. I knew I made the right decision. I made a lot of important life decisions during that school year. I became engaged to be married. I moved off campus and into the condo my fiancé and I purchased in the spring of junior year. I continued onward with my schooling. I worked. I planned my wedding. But when I think back on my junior year of college, I always remember that it began with Nine Eleven.
On Nine Eleven I was safe at college in Illinois, tucked far away from the terror taking place to my East. Being in the Midwest, I never happened to know anyone directly affected by the attacks on America that day. And I spent most of that day in the dorm rooms of my friends, watching coverage on tv. That was all you could watch. Everything else stopped. Not being directly affected by the attacks at all, and feeling the way I do each year on Nine Eleven... I cannot even bear to imagine the pain and suffering of people who were directly affected in any way by the attacks.
Being of college age when the terrorist attack upon America occurred, I believe I am a member of the in-between generation. Or, what I am calling the “Floating Generation.” Listen up if you are about my age and ever wondered what generation you fall in. Are you a millennial? Or a Gen X’er? I used to question my generational status all the time. Some days I thought with 100% certainty that I am a Millennial. Then, other days, I think, those silly Millennials!!! I canNOT relate to them at all! There’s no way I am a millennial, am I? I realized that people my age have our very own and very distinct generation. I hover. And float. The Floating Generation. I hover and I float between generational skills and beliefs. I float back and forth and go where the waves of time take me. I can balance that paper checkbook very easily if the internet went down. I can use Apple Pay at McDonald’s in an instant if I forget my wallet. Maybe someday I won’t even carry a wallet? I am a ‘Floater.’ Everyone is born into a distinct generation. It’s up to you to decide which one that is, though, and which one you will put yourself in - even if that means creating your own generation.
I had grown up prior to Nine Eleven. Nine Eleven occurred when I was a very young and very new adult. A young adult making very important life decisions for the very first time. For me and many others, there was life before Nine Eleven and life after Nine Eleven. Just like there was life before smartphones and life after smartphones were invented. And there also existed for us life before social media and life with the advent of social media. Or “Life Before Facebook” as I commonly say. I am of the American generation who has experienced both eras. I lived and survived life before the internet and now live with the internet a part of my life every single day. I know how to live with Facebook, although I have chosen to now continue life without a Facebook account. I know how to balance a paper checkbook, and will be forever and eternally grateful for the banking app on my phone home screen that keeps track of everything for me now. I float back and forth between the two eras, quite easily adapting to any situation on hand, maybe easier than others can adapt. We are adapters. Adapters to the continual and quick-paced changes taking place around us. This Floating Generation appreciates those little things like a bank app more so than any other generation potentially can appreciate it. Because we have seen, experienced, and know both ways of life. Generations coming up and being born now will have those pieces of technology molded into their lives from as long as they can remember back. How will they relate and study and know their past?
At some point in the unknown future, will there exist a generation of humans who don’t know how to live life without a smartphone? Or live life without the internet? I question if the internet will become classified as a public ‘utility’ in the future?... As imperative to life as gas and electricity and air conditioning and heat are now to our way of life? I compare and contrast my life before and life after in my head all the time, as only ones who really and truly experienced both can do so. And I also see life before Nine Eleven, and I see life after Nine Eleven. We are definitely a different nation today than we were before the attacks. Just as the entire world is different today directly because of social media’s never-ending presence, as well as the invention of the smartphone.
On future Nine Eleven’s, there will be more new and innovative inventions that will have changed human behavior and communication yet again. When I go to sleep tonight I will know that this day will come again 365 days from now. The world may be far different again next year at this time. And years into the future. One thing will remain the same though. That feeling inside my stomach. That pit. Because all the technology in the world cannot change the real and raw feeling inside a human heart. And stomach. It will be like the ‘Groundhog Day’ film, I think to myself. The same day all over again. Just 365 days apart, not the next morning. Except this year, 2019, there was one difference for me. Today, this Nine Eleven, 2019 - eighteen years later - I came to the realization that an entire generation of Americans are now legal adults who never lived through that horrific day in America. They don’t know what waking on this day feels like to some. They need to know our history. - how and why things can change in an instant. I pray they are taught what happened.
My dad is a World War II history buff. That’s how I have always thought of him. And when I think of his history knowledge, I then think of the show Seinfeld… The episode where Jerry and George see Keith Hernandez. And Jerry tells George that Keith Hernandez is a big Civil War buff. George is fascinated by the statement. He says he’d like to be a buff. What does one have to do to become a buff? He contemplates. My father is one of those such buffs. Sometimes I think he knows more about WWII than some of the generals who fought in the war.
Recently, June 6, 2019, marked the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. I like to educate myself about WWII. I like knowing as many details as I can. I’d like to someday know all that my father knows about WWII. Yet, I know I will never know as much as my father knows. He knows things that WWII movies get factually wrong. When this past 75th Anniversary came and went, I couldn’t help but think at the time, that someday, it will be the 75th Remembrance of Nine Eleven. And then the 100th. Whole generations come and gone. What will American’s think that day, Nine Eleven of the distant and unknown future? Will they be watching television that day, on some strange futuristic device, and see world leaders from all over the globe come together to remember the fateful day of the past? Will people put flags up and wear American flag tees and pins to remember 9/11 that far into the future? They might, and they will, if future generations are taught what happened. A history which is forgotten is a history that may be repeated. If something is forgotten, how does one learn anything at all from that something?
To the new and waking and growing generations of American’s out there - this is what Nine Eleven feels like to some of your fellow Americans. And next year, on Nine Eleven, Twenty Twenty, we will feel this way again. This is why the American Flag is brought out specifically today, hung proudly outside homes and businesses and in window displays and waving from vehicles all across the country. This is why news coverage is different today. This is why when you Google something today on your smartphone you will see a sad and somber black ribbon just below the search bar, draped gently over the American Flag; a Flag who mourns a loss from 18 years ago today.
And next year, on Nine Eleven, I already know on that morning I will again wake and I will again look at my calendar and see the date; and a sinking pit of a sad and heartbreaking feeling will fall upon my stomach. That Groundhog Day repetitive feeling will come upon me again. Reliving the day with heartache and a profound sadness. And I will go out into society to get coffee, and I will tip the barista something extra that day - whether I can afford to or not. Living the same day, with the same feelings and emotions, again. And tears will come again. Without end on that day of the calendar, Nine Eleven. For the rest of my life. I will never forget.
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