At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most people (especially Americans) born in the 1990s or before can remember when and where they heard the news about the 9/11 attacks. More importantly, I would assume that most people can name several ways that 9/11 has affected their lives. Even if they did not witness the attacks or lose a loved one to them, most people feel the effects of 9/11 through rigorous airport security, ongoing American involvement in the Middle East, or just seeing “Patriot Day” on their calendars.
For some, 9/11 was life-changing. Take, for instance, my favorite musician and writer, Gerard Way. Gerard was commuting to New York City when the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings occurred. As he tells it, Gerard saw the bodies falling from the buildings, heard his fellow commuters call to quit their jobs or propose to loved ones, and realized he wasn’t doing enough with his life. That day, Gerard made a commitment to start a band and wrote this song about the tragedy he witnessed. As music lovers know, he succeeded, fronting My Chemical Romance for its 12 year career and even expanding his creative endeavors to write the Eisner Award winning Umbrella Academy and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.
Obviously, Gerard is a rather extreme example. My own 9/11 experience was not nearly so immediate in its life-alterations. However, upon reflection, I believe 9/11 revealed something extremely important about me.
I was exactly nine and a half on September 11, 2001. I learned about the attacks in my fourth grade classroom. Our substitute teacher explained that we could not go outside for recess, because two planes had crashed into buildings in New York City. Of course, as children, this seemed ludicrous. What did an accident in New York have to do with us way out in Kansas? Of course, as an adult, I’m more inclined to wonder — where was our regular teacher? Was she affected by the events? Was she too scared to come to work?
That night, I went home and watched my parents watch the news. My dad took every single one of our vehicles, along with every single gas can we owned, to the gas station. He and my mom were worried that gas prices would skyrocket or there would be a fuel shortage…or worse. I didn’t understand much of what was happening. I reacted in the most instinctive way possible. I pulled out my bright Lisa Frank journal (I told you I was a 90s kid).
And I wrote.
At the time, I didn’t think anything about it. I was scared and confused. I wanted to sort out my thoughts. And, I must admit, I remember thinking about the diary-form historical fiction books in the school library and loving the romanticism of my own thoughts being recorded in the same way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. 9/11 did not make me a writer. It did not spawn any kind of creative awakening. I’ve been telling stories since I could talk and writing since I could hold a pencil. But, in retrospect, I think it’s very telling that in a time of international chaos, I chose to calm my little world by writing. Upon more reflection, I can see this pattern throughout my life. After romantic break-ups, the death of beloved pets, an existential crisis–I always write something.
They (the vague, omniscient “they”) say that tragedy brings out the best in people, the worst in people, and the true nature of people. Well, if that’s true, the 9/11 tragedy (and the smaller struggles in my life) have brought out my personal truth. I am a writer.
I hope I’m not alone in this. I hope that others, whether on a personal scale like me, or a worldwide scale like Gerard Way, continue to let tragedy inspire them to create art and change lives.
Thirteen years ago today, millions of lives changed in an instant. Right now, today, millions of lives are continuing to begin and end and evolve. Including mine. Including yours.
I wrote this.
What are you going to do about it?