Letting it out and looking back
Somewhat against my will, I’ve been doing a fair bit of reflecting lately. Moments where I’m thrown back, fighting against the tide of time, and without warning I’m in a different place, a different city.
That one song comes through my headphones while I make my commute home on MUNI. All of a sudden I’m in that big church at that big funeral, alone while Elliott Smith plays over those big speakers and a friend from another time is being carried down the aisle in a coffin. It lasts for fleeting seconds. Then I’m back on the M, tearful and choking with anger thinking how terrible addiction can be while I realize I’ve almost missed my stop.
It is a disorienting, stabbing feeling. Similar feelings surfaced during the week leading up to the 10 year anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, especially as I watched the horrifying footage from ground zero being replayed on news reports.
The difference here is that I had no firsthand experience of the events of that day. Like so many of my friends and peers, I was thousands of miles away, and witnessed only secondhand the terror of that day. Instead of being shaken back to a vivid witnessed image, I was shaken by what I can only describe as the culmination of anger built up over 10 years since that attack.
I was only in 7th grade when the towers fell. I had no context, no background, no tools to synthesize such an immense event aside from the common sense and love of justice that my parents had so diligently instilled in me from a young age. As a result, even in 7th grade, I knew there was something wrong when my peers would start saying things that implied the attacks were the fault of Muslims, or Arabs. How could they make these generalizations? How could they not see that terrorism is the tool of few, wielded by those whose radicalism and hate removes them apart from any larger organized cause? Even as a 7th grader, I was repelled by the superficiality of the American flag stickers that were suddenly ubiquitous badges of true patriotism. As I entered 8th grade and eventually high school, I questioned the potential ramifications of our invasion of Afghanistan, and vehemently opposed the US invasion of Iraq.
Ten years later, I am left with a somber realization that my adolescence was immeasurably changed by the events of 9-11 and our country’s subsequent response, one that continues today. My teenage years were punctuated by international violence both perpetuated by and targeting the United States. My first experience of an organized protest was one protesting the invasion of Iraq. I was introduced to activism through the Progressive Club on my high school’s campus, and subsequently introduced to the ridicule that one faces by being part of a liberal organization on a conservative small town campus. Driving tests and my first license bookended by more reports of dead soldiers. I watched my peers graduate, go to bootcamp, and return raving and damaged from immediate deployments while I was wrapping up my first classes at community college. I watched my scholarship opportunities dry to nothing while the economy bore the brunt of a billion dollar war. The thought that by the time I complete my education at San Francisco State University my country will have been at war since before I entered high school is a morbid one that I can’t help but dwell over.
Reflecting on these last 10 years has left me feeling cheated and angry. On one hand, I feel like I have lost a sense of innocence by spending my formative years watching the conflict of my country. I have seen my world change around me while I was still trying to find my place in it. I have watched politicians and fundamentalists chip away at my civil liberties in the name of protection from an alarmist threat. I have seen agency upon agency adopt clumsy and ineffective policies of security theater- be it from my local police force to TSA agents at the gate.
On the other hand, I can’t help but thank the last 10 years for turning me into the activist and all around opinionated woman that I am today. The last 10 years have shown me the consequences of both religious radicalism and American imperialism. I guess that’s the funny thing about growing up in an era of fluctuating values; you find the values that you desperately want to hold on to. For me they include justice, fairness, compassion, and reason.
I wonder what the next 10 years will hold.