by Tommy Cromie ’22
In the first few weeks of April this year, when the United States recorded over 3,000 deaths in a single day from the Coronavirus pandemic, I saw a tweet with thousands of retweets which questioned why “everything” must be compared to 9/11 and why conservatives are so obsessed with the day. I was struck by it so much that I continue to think about that sole tweet in the sea of thousands of tweets I have read since.
I was struck by that tweet not because I am conservative – I am a Democrat. Nor that I even remember that sunny Tuesday morning – I was just 22 months old. Rather it was because I have seen the damage that September 11, 2001 has had on people’s lives in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Tri-State area.
My mom tells me that I was on the swings behind my northern New Jersey childhood home when the smoke rose on the horizon from New York City. My sister, who is seven years older than me, has vivid memories of the day. She remembers the hush that fell over the classroom when the teacher first heard the news, and her classmates being pulled from school without knowing if their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles would make it home that night.
As I grew up, I slowly heard more stories about that day. I would learn about it in school each year; normally it was one of the first lessons we covered in a social studies or history class, just a few days after the new year began. My family and I would go to the Morris County 9/11 Memorial just five minutes from my house with its rusted steel beams protruding into the air, mangled and broken. When I visited each year, I had a new understanding of what lay in front of me — a new puzzle piece in my forming mind of what occurred and how we responded, those we lost and the fate of those who survived.
Even at 20 years old, the stories of those who were in lower Manhattan that day continue to reveal themselves around me. My aunt, my substitute teacher, and a random pairing on the golf course this past summer who worked for the Port Authority in the North Tower were all able to make it home. My dad ran many marathons alongside his friend whose sister passed. As they ran, they passed back and forth the Flag of Honor with each of the names of those who perished. My understanding of that day grows with each passing experience and lesson about the lives turned upside down because of a hateful act.
One year, we visited a hilltop just across the street from the memorial. We could see the twin beams of light in the distance, illuminating the night sky in two endless towers connecting lower Manhattan to the heavens. As the beams replaced the image of the towers that I don’t remember, I would always question why people must act in such hate and think about the power we have as Americans to rally around our common purpose to rise against hate and rebuild from the ashes.
I am a child of a rebuilt NY, a rebuilt United States, and a United States still fighting for how to move on. I watch as my country tears itself apart from the inside with hate and anger. A Republican nominee for Congress peddles 9/11 conspiracy theories and is welcomed into the party. Liberals on Twitter complain when the media compares the loss of 3,000 American lives in a single day to another day with the same magnitude of families’ lives being overturned. Somehow a day with a greater loss of American lives than Pearl Harbor has been polarized and vilified by both extremes.
Each of the last two years since I started at Davidson, I have been awed by how, for the most part, the country outside of the Tri-State area just goes about their everyday lives. “Never forget” does not seem to hold the same weight for my non-Tri-State peers as it does for me. Each article and op-ed I read from politicians and journalists who lived through that day reminds me of what I grew up seeing. I feel the hurt, pain, and unity of my region, but others do not feel the same way. Many people I know from outside the New York area were surprised that there was outrage when the 9/11 Museum announced that the “Tribute in Light” would be canceled this year. They didn’t understand the impact of the lights and thought the outrage was partisan. 9/11 wasn’t a partisan event, and our remembrance of it shouldn’t be either.
In the wake of nearly 200,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and countless Black men and women dead from police violence, the aftermath of 9/11 should be a guiding light. We, as a nation, are capable of overcoming hate and devastation. Just because you did not see the impacts of 9/11 first hand does not mean that there is not something you can learn from it. We should learn from those around us, hear their stories, and respond with empathy no matter their race, gender, or creed. Today, that comes from listening, learning, and taking real steps forward. Tweets that downplay our remembrance of that day distract us from the terrible events that took place and the countless people who were affected. We cannot forget or look past the events of 9/11, no matter what our exposure to it is, because something in every one of us was lost on that day, and we are still working to get it back.
Tommy Cromie is a political science major from Morristown, NJ, and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.