Learning from History

by Tamara A.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at a bar after work and attempted to follow the CNN news that was silently playing in one corner as the ESPN commentary from the main TV played throughout the bar.  While it was difficult to get any details from the reporting, I was at least able to follow the main headlines and get the general sense of what important things were happening that day. 

One headline that appeared addressed the 9/11 museum that is currently being constructed in the underground portion of the Ground Zero site in New York City.  The random guy that was sitting next to me at the time had a fairly strong negative reaction to it.  It went something like this: “I can’t believe they are making a museum for the terrorist attacks.  That seems a little ridiculous.  Plus, it wasn’t that long ago.”  (It was a little more elaborate than that, but that’s pretty much what I took from it.)

It took me a second to respond to him.  It does seem a little strange to have a museum opening for something that happened so recently in our lifetime.  Museums seem to be reserved for things of the far past, things that I didn’t experience but are important to learn about to know the history of humanity.  But then I thought about it, all of the World War II museums that I have visited (and, for lack of a better term, enjoyed because it is such an interesting event to learn about and learn from) must evoke the same sense of eerie recollections for my grandma and others who experienced these events with the strange reality that that was their lives for a while and it shaped how they lived the rest of their existence. 

For me, the museum is essential.  The 9/11 plane crashes is our generation’s Pearl Harbor or JFK assassination.  I don’t know a single person who couldn’t tell me where they were the moment they found out that the first World Trade Center building was hit.  That is a significant historical moment that all Americans will learn about in their history courses from here on out.  Never have I thought about the events that are happening during my lifetime as contenders for space in textbooks.  But 9/11 is the leader in that race.

So today is the 10th anniversary of the attacks.  I feel as if today has taken a different tone from the first nine anniversaries.  Ten years out.  The hurt and the devastation are still there.  (I have even found myself on the brink of tears a couple times in writing this piece.) And that is coming from someone who had no direct losses or effect from that day.  I can’t imagine the pain that is replayed for those that lost loved ones or the panic from actually experiencing the horrific scene that day.  I have all the sympathy in the world but, in no way, can I imagine what it was like.

But, despite the pain that will linger, it is about time that we look at the event in the context in which it played out.  As msn.com put it in their coverage of today’s ceremony,

…[M]uch of the weight of this year’s ceremonies lie in what will largely go unspoken.  There’s the anniversary’s role in prompting Americans to consider how the attacks affected them and the larger world and the continuing struggle to understand 9/11’s place in the lore of the nation.

What can we do to commemorate this day and the events that followed and learn from this?  The personal accounts are heart wrenching and it is our duty as a nation, as humans to help ourselves grow as individuals and as a community from what happened.

As a nation, there have been moments of unity drawn from this.  In fact, even the larger international community seemed to feel the same pain for a brief moment, because even though there are anti-American sentiments that exist, the lack of humanity that day is undeniable.  And while that unity has been rediscovered each anniversary, it has been generally lost in between.  The uniting factor for some was the secluding factor for others, mainly the American Muslim population. 

I think 9/11 provided us with the great opportunity to look beyond our differences and find the same basic emotions, desires and fears.  We have to realize that extremists within a subculture or community do not define the whole, that the majority of people are looking for the same acceptance as the rest of us.  Tragedies (especially those that are imposed by man) give us the chance to consider what it means to be human and what our responsibilities are to our fellow humans.

So it is my hope, that while our country revisits the day that stole our sense of security and prompted us down a road of vengeance, we take a moment to acknowledge the vulnerability that it gave us and embrace the human connection that it exposed between Americans and the world. 

Let’s not allow that last part to fade.

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