Eric Crossan/Illustration by Monroe Givens/University of Delaware
Commemorative poster from the University's candlelight vigil on Sept. 11, 2002.
Commemorative poster from the University's candlelight vigil on Sept. 11, 2002. Eric Crossan/Illustration by Monroe Givens/University of Delaware
Today has us all thinking. About what was. And what's happened in the years since. About how our outlook, our country, the world, maybe even our families, friends, our communities, have changed.
I delivered a message that had much to do with change nine years ago, at a candlelight vigil on my college campus marking the one year anniversary of 9/11. Sitting in clusters on the Mall of the University of Delaware, more than 5,000 students and faculty gathered in early evening, clutching pillar candles. For many of us, this is where we first heard the news one year earlier; where we congregated, shocked, trying to make sense of things.
Reading the words of my barely-21-year-old-self again for the first time since the event (thanks to a very kind professor who held onto them), I expected to be overly-critical, to find it outdated, perhaps irrelevant, in this new decade. Instead, I felt pride, and privilege to have this aid to remember the moment in time. It's possible to see reflected in the (younger) image of myself delivering these words, if at times naïve and idealistic, the same emotions we're grappling with today.
On Sept. 11, 2002, I wrote:
"Looking back on the past year, it is difficult to say if my day to day life, or the lives of the majority of this campus community, changed as a result of September 11 — I can't pinpoint ways my friends and I altered our behavior or personalities for the long-term. We, like millions of other Americans, planted mini flags in front of our house, stood on the porch one evening and lit a row of candles, volunteered to give blood or take up collections of food or donate money. It was easy to grieve then, easy to keep abreast of what was going on by watching the news and reading the commemorative articles in the New York Times, easy to light a candle and grab a flag to wave.
Now, on this anniversary, it's harder to know how to react, harder to decide where we should go from here. Time has passed, and I feel like I've lost touch with what's happening over in Afghanistan, and sometimes it still seems like I should be grieving for what our nation lost."
Each ensuing year brings perspective, and experience. This was before the wars would touch many parts of American life, making it all the more tangible. Before my cousin, who enlisted in the Marines after 9/11, served two long deployments in Iraq; before my now sister and brother-in-law and friends spent more time away than at home on tours with the Navy and Army; before the gaping void in lower Manhattan would start to be rebuilt by thousands of men and women, including a good friend who's helping to grow Tower Four.
And this was before I started interning, and later working for a news organization that has made it a mission to never let us lose touch. NPR's commitment to covering the consequences of that tragic Tuesday is constant. Our journalists are witness to the stories from Kabul and Kandahar, in Baghdad, in Islamabad, with troops at home and on deployment, and in communities across this country. Long after other reporters have packed up, and moved on, these are the stories that still make the top of our newscast, that we devote a solid 8 minutes to on Morning Edition, that get a 16-point headline at NPR.org.
In the video of the University's candlelight event on Sept. 11, 2002, while I'm speaking it turns from dusk to night. I remember looking out as light passed to thousands of flickering candles. It's a scene I hope I never forget.
We all have those moments and memories from 9/11, or from events that have happened since. I'm endlessly grateful to work for a place that collects and shares those moments, to be sure we always remember.
The full text of my remarks follows; there's also a video of the event (I appear 50 minutes in) via the University of Delaware.
Remarks of Anna Christopher
September 11, 2002 Commemoration
University of Delaware
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Memorial Hall South Lawn
We all remember how we first heard what happened — who told us, the exact words the radio announcer spoke, the almost surreal images crashing though our TV screens. For many of us, that sunny, clear Tuesday morning has stayed in our minds over the past year, jostling, filtering, and trading places with other memories, sometimes fading, but more often subconsciously demanding that we remember. There is no question the memories of September 11 will forever stay with us — the sound of busy signals in response to frantic phone calls, groups of students, unblinking, waiting in silence, where we were standing when the first, and then the second, and then the third plane hit. We each have a story — some more affected and emotional than others — of that day, but one year later, as we look further forward, the questions have changed from where we were to where have we come to where will we continue to go? How has September 11 affected each of our lives, and will it continue to impact our future life experiences?
Looking back on the past year, it is difficult to say if my day to day life, or the lives of the majority of this campus community, changed as a result of September 11 — I can't pinpoint ways my friends and I altered our behavior or personalities for the long-term. We, like millions of other Americans, planted mini flags in front of our house, stood on the porch one evening and lit a row of candles, volunteered to give blood or take up collections of food or donate money. It was easy to grieve then, easy to keep abreast of what was going on by watching the news and reading the commemorative articles in the New York Times, easy to light a candle and grab a flag to wave.
Now, on this anniversary, it's harder to know how to react, harder to decide where we should go from here. Time has passed, and I feel like I've lost touch with what's happening over in Afghanistan, and sometimes it still seems like I should be grieving for what our nation lost. There is no doubt I am conscious of reports of destruction and terror occurring beyond U.S. borders, that I know there is a chance that something else could happen in this country...but sometimes I wonder if that's enough, to be conscious, to know? Should I — should all of us —pay more attention to the world, to the government, to what's going on in and out of this country? Should September 11 have made us more curious, more knowledgeable, more politically minded? I'm not sure. But I do know that as much as time's passage naturally lessened the immediacy of the events surrounding September 11, it doesn't mean that we've forgotten just because the constant thoughts have subsided and the talk has died down...it doesn't mean that we weren't somehow changed beyond the few patriotic weeks that followed the attacks.
There are ways we've changed, of course. Personally, I know I am more cautious, more suspicious of people and things that appear strange to me, more concerned with feeling safe and secure...but I also have greater feelings of hope, strength and acceptance. There was a resilience and unparalleled courage, a desire to jump back and build up that shone throughout this country in the weeks following September 11, and even though time has passed, in many ways those feelings haven't. We remember the hurt, we remember the anger and tears and overpowering doubts, but each of us — many about to embark on a life outside of the university community — cannot forget the patriotism, the pride, the remarkably selfless acts of love that we read about, watched, and sometimes experienced.
Recently, I find myself wondering more about the future, asking questions like 'what makes me happy,' 'what – to me – is most important,' 'where am I taking my life?' I can partially attribute those thoughts to getting older. Maybe some of it is what all seniors feel as they approach graduation. But a portion of my thinking comes from a movement that's been happening since September 11 — a movement forward. Since that day, even as we have discovered and assessed our vulnerabilities, doubts and weaknesses, we have realized that recognizing them is, itself, a good thing. Knowing what's wrong can help us make repairs, to ourselves and to our country.
Yes, over the past year we have felt more cautious, more worried and hesitant and frightened by the news, but terror is not our only weakness...for many, we've developed a greater vulnerability to love. One woman from Pasadena, California put it this way: "I'm much more susceptible to feelings of hopelessness, the inability to make a difference, to make the world work for everyone. But I am also even more inspired by the goodness in people, by their commitment and love when they give all they can for others and the world. I feel more vulnerable now, but vulnerable to love as well as to fear."
As the days and weeks and years pass, there will be times when we see something that sparks a memory, something that makes us remember what started out as a perfectly normal Tuesday. We may not say September 11 pushed our lives in a different direction or made us more determined people with clearer goals and morals, but in some ways the event, and what has happened since then, did and will continue to influence our growth as individuals and as a generation. I'm not too sure what I'll be doing at this time next year, where I'll be standing or who I'll be talking to or the places I'll be going. But, like the thousands of innocent individuals who died one year ago today, we're not meant to predict the future, not supposed to have a perfectly set design for life. I think, possibly above all else, remembering September 11 has encouraged me to open my eyes, to rejoice in people and humanity, to celebrate the future. Being certain of what it holds may not be possible, but making the most of this day, and the next, and the several after that, can only be a step in the right direction.