Sixteen years. That’s how long it’s been since the terrorist attacks of September 11th that set into motion the cascade of events now known as the Great Recession and Global War on Terror.
Both my husband and I woke up early. While the morning looks like just like the start of any other brilliant day, it’s far from it. We talked about how things would have been different if 9-11 hadn’t happened – our friends that would still be alive, the careers that would have manifested, the wounds of war that we wouldn’t have to live with day in and day out.
I go for a run. I run whenever the realities of life after war cloud my mind. Closed casket military funerals. Jam packed VA Hospital waiting rooms. 87 percent divorce rates for OEF/OIF combat officers. Suicide after suicide after suicide. Veteran caregiver groups filled with sobbing spouses who are literally at their wit’s end.
I run another mile. We’d have a house full of kids by now if it wasn’t for the war. He’d be coming up on a promotion if it hadn’t been for those damn IEDs. I’d never have to sit through another VA suicide prevention class. Our lives as a peacetime military family would have been almost-normal by civilian standards.
Cooling down on the empty country roads, I look up at the sunrise and reflect. It’s been sixteen years since that fateful day that changed the course of American history. Some days it seems so far away; other days, like today, it feels like the defining moment of my family’s entire life.
In a generational survey conducted by Pew Research, all generations (Millennial, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation) named September 11th as the most significant historical event of their lifetime. The attacks outranked the tech revolution, natural disasters, other terrorist events, international conflicts, the moon landing, and political revolutions. In regards to generation-specific impact, Millennials reported September 11th at a higher frequency than previous generations (86%, compared with 79% Generation X, 70% Baby Boomers, and 59% Silent Generation). Its not uncommon throughout history for each generation to feel defined by major influencing events; for Millennials, it’s the terrorist attacks of September 11th, hands down.
This morning, I’ll walk into a classroom of young Millennials, many of whom were too young to recall the tragic events marked by this day sixteen years ago. They did not consciously experience the sheer terror of a domestic terrorist attack, nor watch their loved ones respond by volunteering for military service as the towers fell. I’m grateful that the next generation is able to experience this day as a distant memory vs. a defining moment that changed the course of their lives forever.