An American high school, September 11th, 2001:
My heart thumped as I turned my face to watch the blockbuster-esque drama unfold. Clammy hands clenched in my lap, suppressing the tears that began to well in the corners of my eyes.
Silence. Blood-drained faces looked to each other for guidance.
The television flickered and switched to a scene replay; the sun reflected on thousands of mirrored panes. The news anchor yelling into the microphone. A second plane careening into the world trade centers.
All around me, young adolescents yearning to be accepted as adults suddenly became child-like. Hands involuntarily covering disbelieving mouths.
As the first shock started to wear off, students called home, desperately trying to contact loved ones. Even in Florida, we searched the news images for signs of people we knew.
It was terrifying.
Nine years later, I still remember the moment vividly and clearly.
It was the first time that I, as an immigrant, felt American. Racked with sorrow, I felt one with the culture. One with the country.
Today I thought it only fitting to give tribute to the thousands of lives that were lost and the tens of thousands of people who were forever changed on this one, single day.
As I embark on my year in Paris, and as I have always tried to do during my travels, I will continue to try to encourage cultural exchange, for it is the only way that events such as September 11th can be prevented.
I have met people who hate America, and who love America. But my interest does not lie in these personal opinions; my interest is to show respect for everyone, regardless of their religion, race, or other personal qualities.
America as a country has recently been debating many religion-related issues, some of which still find their source directly from the 11th of September, nine years ago. These issues dominate American news, and watered-down versions can be found in the form of sound bites world-wide. While these debates could be healthy, I find the tone of the conversations disturbingly hate-filled.
I hope that I can show other cultures that Americans can be tolerant, understanding, forgiving, and welcoming. Likewise, I hope to learn about the countries that welcome me, as a foreigner, and understand why they think and feel the way they do.
Perhaps, when enough people start doing this, we will truly be able to move towards a future that doesn’t use tragedy as fuel for hatred, that doesn’t forget to love and accept all people, and that doesn’t shun world knowledge because of fear.
In the words of the late John Lennon: “If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the 60′s, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”
While many people died unfortunate and unnecessary deaths, we can pay tribute to these individuals by turning our past tragedies into lessons learned for the future.
Rest in Peace.