We all have stories of where we were on September 11. It’s similar to other historic moments, whether happy or tragic: they’re melded into our memories permanently. However, not all of us have as vivid memories of the 18 years of war that have followed. At least not on a personal level. Life became very different very quickly, especially for the working poor and those in rural areas. When someone you love is sent seven time zones away and you’re told that it is their duty — your duty — to support that, then you do. Without question.
For a small portion of the older Millennials’ and younger Gen X’ers’ cohorts, tanks, RPGs, destroyers, IEDs, ACUs replacing BDUs, flag-draped coffins, stop-losses, missing limbs, absent noses, urgent phone calls via satellite with mortars in the background, scars on faces you can trace with your fingers, scars that you cannot see, seemingly endless tours, and the onslaught of the emotional toll of war on those fighting it became the norm. What I’ve seen people sometimes fail to recognize in social justice work is the trauma that the folks who experienced it first hand (or second hand through their loved one) are left to sift through, or are still experiencing in the moment. Our world changed. And then it changed again. And it changed again.
This one day — these two wars that followed — divided a generation. There is an in-between: the folks who have experienced it either directly or by being a spouse, etc., and who have made the transition to civilian life (however long ago or recently), and who struggle with not just the concept of war, but also imperialism and its juxtaposition against patriotism and love of their home country. It is at times difficult to find the happy medium — to find the in-between. It is difficult to convey their grief to others whose experiences are decidedly different than theirs. It is difficult to explain to others who have similar backgrounds as theirs, and yet went down a different path, why they feel the way they feel and why it’s important to know what was missing from their textbooks in school. The last 18 years may seem like two decades to many, but to fewer, it has been the blink of an eye in the most exhausting and traumatic of ways, yet it also seems like another life ago.
And so, as we wrap up this day of memorialization and national grief, let us also think of the lives that have been lost or forever changed on the days that came after September 11, 2001, and the lives that are still being lost and forever changed.