Seeing September 11th From a Distance

Most of you, my dear readers, know that I am a lifelong New Yorker. I was born in lower Manhattan, lived my whole childhood in upper Manhattan, and went to high school in the Bronx. I only left my beloved New York City for 4 years to go to college in upstate New York. I left because I knew I would live the rest of my life in NYC and I thought it would be healthy to get a different perspective for a few years. So naturally, I have lived in New York since graduating college. New York City is part of who I am and I carry my city with me everywhere I go. When people ask Dan and I where we are from, I am proud to be able to answer “New York City”.

12 years ago today my city was broken. I did not know how to deal with it then, and I’m not sure I know how even now, as I have never been good with tragedy. And that’s what it was. A tragedy. We lost an icon of our skyline that I can still see in my mind’s eye. We lost so many people who were simply off to work on a brilliantly beautiful September Tuesday morning. And we lost trust in each other and the world. We Americans, at least. Maybe it only seemed that way to me, since I was only 14 at the time.

But our actions since that day 12 years ago have really changed more than the day itself, I believe. We have started wars. Many, many wars. So many people – Americans and non-Americans – have died. Many, many more people than were killed on that horrible day. And I don’t feel safer because of it. I felt safer before. Before September 11th, 2001, obviously, and before America started this current string of wars.

It couldn’t be any more evident to me than since I have been traveling. I haven’t personally feel unsafe anywhere, but walking by the US Consulate in the Hague or the US Embassy here in Amsterdam it is clear that the people working inside of those buildings don’t feel safe. They are both surrounded by high fences and many guard towers. Even here, in the Netherlands. And then you walk down the block and pass the German Embassy, for example, it just looks like a building. If it weren’t for the plaque and flag, you would never know it was special.

US Embassy, Amsterdam

US Embassy, Amsterdam

So far on our trip, our experiences talking with foreigners have all been wonderful. The cultural exchange has made us feel part of a global community. We may speak different native languages, we may live very different lifestyles, we may eat differently. We are all different, but we are all the same.

This is the first time I have ever been out of the country on September 11th. I thought it would be hard for me. But I honestly think it has been an easier day than I ever had in New York City on September 11th over the last 12 years. Not because I got to avoid the day and the subject (I have wifi and my lovely facebook family to remind me of it), but because I got to experience how different, but exactly the same we all are. And I am looking forward to getting to do it for the next 4 months or so as well. Travel can take you to beautiful places, but it can also renew your faith in humanity. And I am so grateful for having the opportunity. Today more than ever.

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6 Responses to Seeing September 11th From a Distance

  1. Moni says:

    Oh Molly, this is by far the best 9/11 memorium I’ve read all day! I’m tired of the fb posts that say how our country is the best in the world and that thank OUR service members and talk about their sacrifice. It was refreshing to read a more holistic perspective that wasn’t exclusive and remembered the many people who have died as a cause of this including the ones who weren’t Americans. And how that really hasn’t made us any safer. I’ve been reading all these accounts and was wondering what I wasn’t happy with – what I would like to see, and there it is now. Something that reminds us that despite our differences – we are all the same. I think that’s what I’ve been feeling. And maybe that’s also because I grew up in a different country that I love as much as I love this country that is now my home. And because I am an alien here. Yet I feel at home. That’s what makes this country beautiful, but in no means superior in any way.

    • MollyG says:

      You have such a unique vantage point, Moni, being somehow both foreign and at home. That is sort of what we have been feeling as we have been traveling, too. Always foreigners, but at home as well. Patriotism is not just loving your country and thinking they don’t do anything wrong. I think the wars are wrong, both on a fundamental level (I am a good pacifist, after all), but also on a human level. I don’t believe they make us safer or help our “cause” in the world. We are all different, yet we are all the same. I do not want to be bombed so I do not want to bomb anyone else. Hopefully we will all learn more compassion as the years pass and make some better decisions as a nation!

  2. Alissa Tully says:

    so eloquently said.

    and p.s. i love the paris post! sounds like you had a great time despite the disappointing food options.

    • MollyG says:

      Thanks Alissa. Oddly I felt very not-eloquent while writing the post. I have been thinking about the post I was going to write about September 11th for a few days, but I never know what’s actually going to come out of me until I get to the keyboard. I’m glad it made sense, though! And yes, Paris is amazing. Despite the food issues.

  3. Abby Bean says:

    Yes to Molly, yes to Moni. I wanted to add this quote from Newsroom re: America being the best country in the world:
    “It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws – for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advanced, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. ”

    I’m not sure it’s important to be the greatest in the world, but I’d sure settle to the best possible for us, without imposing our broken system on others. It sounds like someone must know we’re doing things wrong if our presence requires more protection than anyone else in other countries. Thanks for the perspective.

    • MollyG says:

      Abby, I do think there is a bit of revisionist history in that. Things always look better when they are in the past. But I hope in the future we can do all of the things in that quote. Then I’d be proud to say I am an American while I travel. For now I just feel lucky that I can say that I’m a New Yorker! Everyone loves New York! Including me. But hopefully in the future those walls around the consulate won’t be necessary. One can hope…

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