Thirteen Years Later, and we Haven’t Forgotten What we Lost

9-11Thirteen years have gone by since al-Qaeda attacked us on American soil, and not yet has a day gone by that I haven’t missed my brother. I was an eight year old child on 9/11/2001. He was just shy of seventeen.

My original plan today was to go into the classroom where a close friend of mine teaches children who weren’t even born on that tragic day to talk about my experience. Every year since I was tall enough to see over a podium, I’ve gone somewhere to speak. Speaking about 9/11, it’s long-lasting ramifications, and my brother is my way of keeping his memory alive. I also truly believe that it’s vitally important for American children to hear of their country’s history from firsthand sources. Seventy-five years from now there won’t be anyone alive who remembers 9/11, so time is of the essence in handing down our memories.

I say that was my original plan, not what I did, because once I found out what my friend and I would have to go through to before I would be allowed to set foot on campus, let alone address a group of students, I quickly realized that there wasn’t enough time to follow the correct procedures. I would have to submit to an extensive background check, go somewhere to be fingerprinted, and produce a precise description of what I intended to say at least a week in advance. It’s hard to speak honestly and from the heart when you can’t deviate from a script. He would have had to prove that my speech lined up with the federally prescribed curriculum as outlined in Common Core. Unfortunately, the federal government doesn’t want students to study the terrorist attacks of 2001 this early in the year. It was a no-win situation.

If there’s one thing Americans don’t like, it’s being told to shut up. Especially by “our” government. Especially if the only reason we’re being silenced is because the powers that be simply don’t want the message we have to get out.

Instead, this morning a local church held a mass in memory of my brother, and for all those who lost their lives, or lost a loved one. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to hear a group of Americans, gathered together in the name of our religion, praying for me, for my family, for my brother, for the rest of you who are mourning today, and for the future of our country. I felt that certain kind of comfort you can only get from God.

My city has a 9/11 memorial, so I went there after the service. I knelt in front of the wall where my brother’s name belongs, silently. Like I do every year, I sat on the ground and wrote him a letter about where I am in life. Every year I tell him in a letter that only he will ever read that I wish he could be here to see my little brother and me now. I reflect on how different my life would have been if he were alive.

I am not alone at the memorial. On the bench next to me, there is a firefighter staring at the fountain, across from me, an elderly couple sits quietly. We don’t speak to each other, but we share a deep bond. We all had something taken from us that we will never get back. Some lost more than others, but every American was affected. We were afraid, we were uncertain, but most of all we were united. Remember how that day, politics went right out the window, at least for a short time, and we became simply Americans. Sitting there, I feel this unity again.

As I look over the names on the wall, at the burnt, twisted, piece of steel from the building my brother died in, I remember that we have enemies. It is a reminder that not everyone will embrace our way of life, that there are those out there who would see us destroyed- who would attack again.

While I can understand a policy of not letting simply anyone walk into a classroom, I see a far greater threat to American schoolchildren than a single guest speaker entering a classroom without being fingerprinted, a much greater threat than taking precious time away from whatever Common Core dictates that teachers nationwide do in class that day. I am not a school administrator, nor a parent, but the thought of the federal government having a very real presence in every last classroom and dictating what children should learn, and what messages are and aren’t acceptable for everyone’s children to hear is terrifying. This denies children the right to learn their own history.

The real world is not a utopia where all negativity can be filtered out. If you’re under 31 right now, it was probably a teacher who had to break the news to you that Tuesday morning. Many of you had the duty of being the first to pass on the news to a loved one. We could not be sheltered from the fact that we had been attacked. Now, with the looming threat of ISIS over our heads, we are doing our children a disservice if we shield them from the fact that terrorism is once again an active danger.

The time is now to once again band together as Americans, because unlike the sucker-punch that 9/11 was, we know there is a threat, and we can defend ourselves. We can cut off the easy access any terrorist has to our country by closing the southern border. We can give our military the resources it needs to deal with ISIS and defend our nation.

Today, we need to look back to remember what we lost, and what many people sacrificed.

We must also look forward.

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