Just how the Grandparents and parents of some of us older folks claim they know the precise moment that John F. Kennedy was shot and what they were doing down to the detail of whether they were sitting or standing, the same holds true for our generation and the events of September 11, 2001. I find it difficult to even schedule an appointment or tell someone I’ll get back to him or her on September 11th; five years later it still seems blasphemous.
Things have changed since that infamous day when two planes flew into the financial towers in New York City, carrying a human load of innocent men, fathers, women, mothers, children and babies who must have experienced fear beyond their tormented imaginations. With intentions that morning of those murdered families visiting loved ones, going on vacation or mundane business trips in which it would only be common sense to take for granted an ending that would provide a reuniting with their families and loved ones. Nobody could have predicted that they were getting into a situation in which they would be murdered and heinously violated on a mission that changed history without their consent or knowledge. A mission of merciless death and destruction.
Violated. It seems like much too simplistic of a word. Amongst those that perished on the flights torpedoed into the World Trade Center were children such as Bernard Brown, age 11, Rodney Dickens, 11, Dana Falkenberg, 3, David Brandhorst, 3, Christine Hanson, 3, and Juliana Valentine McCourt, 4. No justification in the world could come close to legitimizing these events. No amount of disagreement over foreign policy or social disparities give anybody the right to take away the lives of innocents and put fear into the hearts and minds of Americans. What do you suppose the people on those flights thought about in their final moments? What did they say to their children sitting next to them, the young eyes who looked up to them for protection? How do you tell a child that nobody can protect them now?
When you’ve been violated, you never forget. When I was in college, one of my last assignments was to portray a utopia or "dis-utopia" by acting or giving a speech that would envelop creativity and spirit to convey a personal form of ideal or hell without actually talking about the specific topic you were expressing. I chose to do a dis-utopia, as did most of the students. Mine was on the struggles and plights of the black female feminist. I chose to do it with a partner and we were pleased by the accolades we received from our professor. When it came time for the last study of communication, a quiet boy named Noel took the spotlight, but he did a re-enactment like no other. The typical college actor shining on stage is not what we got with Noel. Instead, this boy took out a handgun, and told us all to stand in the corner. He paced, waving his gun as the students stood shaking in fear and tears welled up in the eyes of young daughters, aspiring actors and those like myself who had plans to get married the following week. Thoughts raced through my mind as my life passed before me, like I only took the class to fulfill a communications requirement and this isn’t what I signed up for. I felt most sad for those that would be left behind, wondering about what I must have been thinking as my class was being hijacked. I was hoping that it wouldn’t make the 10 o’clock news, that somehow we would be spared by imminent fate.
As Noel went on, we listened intently, since there was really nothing else to do but plan our own funerals, and he spoke about living in an area of Chicago in which gang related murders was to surpass the number of living and breathing people at the rate of slaughter in that neighborhood a year. He told us how walking home from the train was a lesson in survival skills and how he worried about his younger brothers and sisters, and thought to himself that the scholarship he was awarded meant nothing if he was to narrowly escape death on a daily basis. After his "speech", he put his gun down on the Professor’s desk and said; "Now that’s a dis-Utopia".
As impressive as his act was and as much as he truly deserved an A for effort, it did not change the emotional scars it left on the students. The class was cancelled after that and grades were given out according to the work done thus far. I believe that 10 minutes of being held captive by what we thought to be a mad man would haunt some people forever, perhaps even call for therapy. I have always believed that Noel gave this presentation without moral or intellectual boundaries because he truly wanted to bring us into his private hell. He witnessed a hell that so many in his community accepted as a part of their daily life. A life where blood on the streets was common or an unpredictable bullet through a bedroom window, often killing a child, would be par for the course. He wanted us to truly experience his desperation and despair. The problem is, he was not God and he had no right to bring us into that world in which most of us were not a part. Just because many of us had not been victims of violence, doesn’t mean we should be forced into those feelings of helplessness and fear. It is not anybody’s responsibility to "teach" that to those more fortunate. I’m not trying to be insensitive to this poor boy’s horrible environment; I’m merely stating the obvious, that he had no right to make us pawns of his cause.
I often think that is what the terrorists have done to us. They have brought us into their miserable existence and made their desperate lives a part of ours. They had no right to do that. The easy going attitude of the average American has been tainted by the evils of man and the consequences of hatred. The terrorists don’t like how we live, who we are, our values, but they are ours, not theirs. What a dismal place they have put us in. Now we are in the position where we have to defend how we live and defend our ability to choose how we want to live and what religion to embrace. They have no right to try to take that from us and we cannot allow them to. If the people on those planes are to ever receive justice, let their deaths be a reminder that freedom is a gift worth fighting for.
To the victims of 9/11, we will never forget.