Eleven years ago today, it was a beautiful sunny day very much like today. My sister and I had been spending the afternoon playing with dolls in the basement until my father came home unexpectedly early and informed us that there had been a terrorist attack that morning, and that people had died in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. We hadn’t had the television or radio on that day and hadn’t heard about the attacks until then. But for the rest of the afternoon, until the prayer service at church that evening, we watched the news coverage on television, even though they were just showing the same couple video clips over and over and over again. Somewhere in our house, I think we still even have the September 12, 2001 issue of the Omaha World-Herald, although it quickly became tattered from being read so frequently.
I learned a lot that day and on subsequent days. I hadn’t even known the definition of certain words like ‘hijack’ and although I had heard the word ‘terrorist’ before, I hadn’t remembered what it meant. I had never heard of al-Qaeda and knew nothing about Afghanistan besides its location. I hadn’t known anything about the World Trade Center and the word ‘pentagon’ meant nothing to me besides the name of a shape that had either five or six sides; at that time, I couldn’t remember which it was. Even though I had been fascinated by politics since the time of the 2008 presidential election, I had never paid much attention to anything involving foreign policy, and to me, the most significant thing about the government had been the way elections worked. It was something new to read and see news stories about political people doing political things that involved issues more serious than whose name and face we needed to add to our poster of all the American presidents.
The events of September 11 didn’t directly affect me personally. Although I was very frightened and disturbed at the time, and even had a phobia of airplanes for a little while, although I paid a lot more attention to current events from then on, and although it did change the way I thought about politics and patriotism, that was really the extent of September 11’s impact on my life. I didn’t know anyone who died that day. My memories of that day are an insignificant anecdote, which I remember only because I (and people in general) tend to remember major events in terms of minor personal details. I’m sure that my family will always tell the story of how my little sister responded to the news by asking if any windows had been broken. But for many, many people, September 11, 2001 is not an anecdotal memory; it was not an ordinary day where something big happened far away. It was the day when loved ones died, when they directly witnessed a catastrophe, when their world changed in ways that went beyond the political and social ramifications of the attacks.
Those are the reasons that we commemorate September 11. Today is not a political observance, nor is it just a day to remember what that day eleven years ago was like for us personally. The people who died on September 11, 2001 are still dead now, and their families and friends who we prayed for then are still grieving the loss of their loved ones now. They are the reason that we observe the anniversary of those attacks eleven years ago.