That morning, everything changed

Almost exactly a decade ago, I padded down the stairs and rounded the hall to the kitchen, where a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice that I would never finish waited for me.

My mom and younger brother were in the kitchen, captivated by the tiny kitchen television. They didn’t seem to notice me. Confused, I approached the television, on which I saw the image of two massive buildings, one streaming black smoke like a chimney. A red badge — LIVE — stamped the corner of the screen.

As questions began to untangle themselves on my 11-year-old tongue, a plane entered from the left side of the scene. The broadcasters’ voices abandoned semblances of composure. It is perhaps the only moment in the lifetimes of our generation that virtually every person can recall, no matter where they were or what they were doing. It was the moment the world and I knew: This was not an accident. The last moment we could pretend we live on a shelf, high above the world’s problems.

Before that day, I was a lamb of society — the product of loving parents, a comfortable community and a nurturing school. I existed in a world where I had never known genuine fear. I had no hate. I had no questions. I was without suspicion, concern or fear.

That day changed everything.

In days and years to come, I would begin to realize that the most dangerous thing we, as people of this age, can ever do is stop questioning. That day 10 years ago showed us that our country is not, and never will be, invincible. Our country is comprised of people who are as capable as any of being flawed and hateful. And though protecting our American freedoms is necessary against terrorists, we must stand guard in ensuring that those who lead this country don’t go too far in avenging those we lost.

A Pew Research Center study released last week revealed that there was a substantial decrease since right after Sept. 11, 2001, in the number of Americans who believe that citizens needed to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism in our country. We are still learning more of the ways leaders of our country delved into our private lives in attempts to halt acts of terror. We’re realizing that they did go too far.

That day will always remain a searing memory. We will always consider its consequences — on the economy, on foreign policy, on the media, on our expectations of our leaders. Most importantly, we consider how it changed who we are as Americans. We are members of a generation whose country, in our lifetime, has rarely faltered. We’ve never had to wonder if we’d be forced to worship a religion, speak another nation’s language or have someone control what we do or where we go or who we love. We, as a generation living in this place at this time, have been so lucky. Maybe egregiously so — though we’ve grown up in this insulated society, it is one not representative of reality. The ignorance so many of us inhabit is dangerous.

My mother, like many others during the Cold War, learned Russian in high school because there was a genuine fear that one day our country would succumb to the other. Our parents and grandparents felt the tremors of World War II, Vietnam and the Cold War. Though I, like so many, have distant cousins and friends of friends who have served in the Middle East, so many members of our generation know nothing of these wars. They seem fictional and far away. They shouldn’t.

Almost a decade ago, I was a child. I think most of us were, no matter how old we were, no matter what we had seen or experienced before that day. I think the darkness we felt was one we never thought we’d experience within these borders. But we need to consider the faults of those who brought upon that darkness. We need to consider the faults of our country’s leaders in reacting to it. Tuning out the painful realities of the present and past only ensures they will happen again in the future. It’s time to tune in.

Megan is a senior in Media.