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The Bright September Sun: Teenagers Remember 9/11

I've been asking teenagers about their experience of 9/11, and the decade that has passed since. I asked if they remember the day. And they do. Of course they do. But what they seem to remember most, curiously, is us, our reactions.
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There is hope.

Those of us who were normal workaday adults on Sept. 10, 2001, making lunches, sitting in traffic, watching the clock, checking inventory, we remember. That was the last ordinary day.

The fear, anxiety and despair that marked the next morning will be forever etched vividly into our collective memories. The trauma has evaporated with time, to be sure. Yet we don't forget. We mark Sept. 11 every year. We honor the fallen and their families with an appropriate moment of silence. We choke up. Remembering.

And without a doubt, the collective chest of Adult America remains shaken, a bit more constricted, even to this day. It's palpable. You can feel it in our politics and economy. In our rhetoric and intolerance. In our headlines and on our screens. In our suspicions, our dark humor, our sideways glances, our makeshift profiling in every public place.

I like to think that, with each passing year, it's getting better. We breathe a bit easier. We are less spooked. I like to think we're happier.

But there's no doubt that terrorism works. They got us.

Yet there is hope.

Thinking about the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I've been asking teenagers about their experience of that day, and the decade that has passed since.

I asked if they remember the day. And they do. Of course they do. But what they seem to remember most, curiously, is us, our reactions:

"My mom was crying so hard."

"It looked like a movie to me, but I remember my parents acting really strange."

"My mom and dad were whispering about whether to take me to school."

I asked if they understood 9/11, the gravity of the events, and the complex implications for the country. Once again, they grasped all of this surprisingly well: who the global players were, and who they were not. I was impressed.

As an afterthought, I asked if they were scared. None of them, not one, said yes. A couple smiled and laughed at the idea.

One might be inclined to read their reaction as either a certain cluelessness to the "real dangers" lurking in the shadows, or adolescent bravado, the immortality complex we tend to attribute, with a wide and uneven brush, to teenagers.

I didn't hear either of those. Instead, I heard a certain resolve in their tone, an unwillingness to live life in fear. These teens understand the dangers. But they are choosing a life without fear. These makeshift Q&As were wholly encouraging experiences.

As one young man, a new second grader on the day of the attacks, said to me, "Regardless of whether the boogeyman is coming to get you, there's no point in living in fear. You want to be smart, but if you don't live, they win anyway."

I often suggest to parents that they talk with their kids about current events, to teach them how the world works. But more and more, I think we'll make better decisions, for ourselves, our family, our country, everyone, if we listen to them, as well.

Terrorism works. We felt terror in the moment. We're a bit anxious still, affected, paranoid, cautious, in these moments.

Yes, the truth is, the terrorists may have gotten us.

But they didn't get our kids.

So there is hope.