Generation 9/11: Monsters Under The Bed

When does anyone really grow up? I’ve spent a lot of time since I got to college wondering when I’ll look in the mirror and think “Wow, I’m a grown up.” With everything going on lately, it’s hard to imagine that I’m not a grown up.

Last month, two police officers were killed in the line of duty and I was pulled into the very real reality of just how serious and life-threatening what my dad does every single day is. A few weeks ago, I had my phone and wallet stolen while out with friends. Faced with the challenge of putting my life back together the next morning – fraudulent charges on my debit card, no license or identification, or even keys into my dorm—feeling  helpless and lost, I tried to contact my parents for help – they were unavailable. Hours later, I learned it was because my mother had been rushed to the hospital that morning. We’re still waiting on solutions to that. This was the first time in my life where I needed my mom and she literally couldn’t be there for help and advice. This was the first time in my life where I had to deal with legal and police matters, and I didn’t have my dad at my fingertips offering up the solution and steps to take. I was a little freaked out to be honest.

While I knew the problems back home were bigger than my own carelessness, it was hard for me to put myself in that situation, while detaching myself from my own circumstances.

Growing up, I knew I wasn’t in the most normal of situations some of the time. My junior year of high school I was forced to handle adult like situations as if I’d had years of preparation – and I handled it well. I’ve always been grateful for those experiences – they have made me the person I am today. They have given me the values and beliefs that I feel most strongly about. They have shown me just how important a family is, and taught me how far I’d be willing to go for my family.

Spring Weekend came and went at Bryant, and I detached myself from all the stressful realities back home and gave myself a weekend to just have fun. I’d been really stressing out lately about my mom’s health and worrying myself into insanity. Then, on Sunday night my mom told me “President is going to make some important announcement.”

I called her back 15-minutes later, “ARE YOU WATCHING MOM?” She’d gone to bed. “Mom, go turn on the TV NOW, Bin Laden is gone. We got him. They killed him mom.”

It’s really easy to detach yourself from reality – to put things in the back of your mind. Even the most tragic of circumstances can sometimes become a distant memory. I remember September 11 clear as day – but it doesn’t mean I’ve spent much time reflecting on it in the past several years.

I was in band class, and our teacher wasn’t one to hold back, so when we were put on lock-down and told we had to wait for a parent to go home he went right ahead and told us there had been two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. When I say that up until that point I was one of the most naïve children, I mean it.

I remember my mom picking me up and telling me and saying to her “So what, it’s just a building, mommy.” Then she reminded me WTC was the same as the Twin Towers, the buildings we’d visited on a school trip. “Oh, that’s not good.”

My dad was a first-responder. I was 12 years old and the image that is most clear in my mind, aside from the planes and the towers crashing

down, is of my mother: sitting on the couch, eyes glued to the television screen, cell phone in one hand, and home phone in another. She was so scared. That was the first time in my life I can remember actually being afraid of anything – because it was the first time in my life where I saw that my mom was afraid.

On Monday, I was at work watching a stream of ceremonies awarding Medals of Honor to deceased soldiers from the Korean War. Obama said this line: “…utterly disregarding his own safety…”

I got to thinking about all of the men and women who, day in and day out, do the same exact thing, and yet most of the time, they never receive any words of thanks or praise – and they don’t ask for it. They do it because it’s in their blood – they truly want to help Americans and they truly want to fight for our freedoms.

My GoogleReader then brought me to an Op-Ed piece by Bob Greene on CNN about American Character. I won’t spend too much time detailing what he said but I will only mention his main point: Bin Laden may have changed the way our daily routine exists in airports and security may have been altered, but he never changed the character of America.

On 9/11 there were countless first responders consisting of fireman, police and civilians, all wanting one thing: to help save lives. They utterly disregarded their own safety and ran into the rubble and chaos that the rest of the city was running away from. Many of them lost their lives in the fight; many are still struggling and suffering the consequences of their efforts.

There are always going to be people who are going to do that, and that’s what makes it so amazing to be American.  While we have spent the past 10 years grudgingly bitter over the longer waits at the airports, those men and women are who felt it more than us, because those people may have lost a partner on the force, an entire truck of firemen, or might now have cancer or other life-threatening ailments, because they were utterly disregarding their own safety.

Where were you when those men and women were searching desperately for survivors in the rubble hours after the towers crashed? Were you scared? Were you afraid? Were you hoping a friend or family member was not one of those who was lost to the terrorist attacks?

I was 12. Sitting. Waiting. Hoping my daddy would come home. And ya know what, the entire time, despite how scared I was, I knew that was what he wanted to be doing. I have never in my life met another man as selfless as my father. This is not to say there aren’t other people as selfless or more than he is, but needless to say, that is what he is. When they told him he should go home, he stayed anyway. He wanted more than anything to help those who were down in the rubble.

My dad is a hero. Not just my hero but an American hero. Every day he straps on a vest and goes into work and risks his life not just for me, but for everyone else in our Long Island world.

10-years ago, these men and women were praised and cheered for their efforts – commended for doing what they did on that dreadful day. Today, they are the blame for the financial demise our nation is in – their unions apparently the cause of our recession. Is that any way to treat a hero?

How quickly we forget the men and women who stayed for weeks hoping to find a survivor down at Ground Zero. The buildings were still falling around them, and they didn’t care. Instead, we allow politicians and the media to slowly pick these men and women apart.

So I wonder really, has American character changed? In a sense, no I don’t think it has. I think if you read the article, you can easily see there are people in the world who have not forgotten the thankless job those men and women did; but for one person who hasn’t forgotten, sadly, there is someone else who has. Someone else who is picketing the benefits allotted to first responders—fighting against the pensions police and firemen are allowed.

On 9/11 the terrorists wanted to break us down as a country. Instead, we came together in the face of tragedy. As the years went by though, a part of the American spirit and character of freedom and patriotism has been lost somewhere – slowly breaking us down, just as they wanted. Turning us against those who protect and serve.

So while there will always be those who will utterly disregard their own safety for the safety of others, we should not take that for granted. Those men and women were there for us in 2001, they are there now overseas, and they will be there again – let’s not forget that.

I thank God for those men and women – not only the troops, the police, the fire, but they everyday civilians. The heroes amongst us.

I call my hero ‘dad,’ who is yours?

9/11 defined my childhood, and the rest of my generation’s. We lost a little bit of our innocence that day and we were forever changed. So does Bin Laden’s death bring a twinge of relief to my heart—absolutely. For the 9/11 generation, the man that was synonymous with the monsters under the bed is gone forever, and that is something I’ve been waiting 10-years to hear. But nothing will ever take away the twinge in my heart when I see the images of the smoking towers, the hole in the NYC skyline, or the desperation on the faces of the first responders. We vowed not to forget 9/11, let’s not forget the heroes of that day, too.

As my dad would say, rant off.

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