Let’s be honest: When we talk about “the meaning of 9/11,” we really mean “the meaning of 9/11 to me.” Even if you didn’t lose anyone on 9/11, even if don’t know any of the first responders, even if you had never set foot in the World Trade Center in your life, even if you hadn’t been born yet when 9/11 happened, 9/11 has affected you directly, deeply, and personally.
If you’ve been on an airplane in the past ten years, 9/11 has affected you. It’s why you have to go through that long security line and take off your shoes. If you’re a Muslim, 9/11 has affected you. It’s why you see people give you a second look, often a hateful one, even though you consider yourself as patriotic an American as anyone else. If you are in the Armed Forces, or know someone who is, 9/11 has affected you. It’s why you or your loved ones went to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq. And 9/11 is why a number of them didn’t come home.
Maybe you’ve lost a job because of 9/11. I have. A reorganization stemming from the post-9/11 recession of 2002 eventually caused me to leave a company. Maybe you’ve lost your home through foreclosure because of 9/11. I know people who have. The post-9/11 economy has caused entire professions to collapse and some people to be unemployed or underemployed for years. Maybe your children’s education has been affected by 9/11. Mine have. Their classrooms have been packed with more students, teachers have been laid off, academic and extra-curricular programs have been cancelled, and schools have been closed.
If you haven’t been directly affected by 9/11, you still have been touched by it in many subtle, yet significant ways. As an American, you will never feel completely safe and invulnerable. You will never be able to go to a large public gathering, a national landmark, or an airport without wondering, at least for a moment, if you will be safe. As much as you hate to admit it, you will keep your eye out for people you find suspicious.
One of the casualties of 9/11 was our sense of security. No matter how many of our enemies we kill, we will never fully eliminate the threat. And as we learned from Oklahoma City and Oslo, the next great threat can come from anyone, anywhere.
With the tenth anniversary approaching, we will see those same horrible images over and over again. The towers burning, people jumping to their deaths, firefighters caked with toxic dust. But 9/11 is more than the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville. It’s about all of us. All of us were affected and are continuing to be affected by what happened that day. We will continue to feel its effects on the 20th anniversary, the 50th anniversary, and for generations to come.