7 words America’s 20-somethings didn’t know before September 11, 2001

As someone in my early-twenties, 12 years is almost half of my life. There have been thousands of growing experiences in those years, but there are just some days that create adulthood in children faster than they ever should.

Never ForgetOf course, we all remember where we were. I sat in the front row of a 6th grade classroom honestly not even knowing what was going on. I hardly had a concept of what an airplane looked like, and had never been to New York City. My teachers were crying, and I wished my teenage sister was with me to tell me what had just happened. I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel about this – but I did know without thinking, that I was scared.

That day changed my entire generation. Until that point, we had the safety of America in which we could rejoice. We trusted that we were always safe here. And we were dreamers, not fighters. What was there to be afraid of? The fight is always miles away. It’s my job to play until I grow up and get to lead the world as an American that the world respects.

But then we learned some things. These are 7 words we never knew, and now some we’ll never forget.

1. Terrorism: [ter-uh-riz-uh m] noun: the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce especially for political purposes.

What? What even is that? Why in the world is that even a thing? Those people flew those airplanes into our buildings because it just is what they do? What?

Who would have thought we’d live years of it to come?

2. Al-Qaeda: [al-kaidah] noun: a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in Pakistan at some point between August 1988 and late 1989 with his origins being traceable to the Soviet War in Afganistan.

I remember how long it took for me to be able to say this word. And to learn that this is a group that operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and racial Sunni Muslim movement calling for global Jihad. Understanding that these folks could be anywhere in the world at any time begged a lot of questions of me as a child.

3. Osama bin Laden: (March 10, 1957 – May 2, 2011): The founder of Al-Qaeda, and born to a billionaire in Saudia Arabia.

Even as a child, I was a Christian. And I learned very quickly that this man didn’t like us very much. To him, his actions were his truth. And he really needed to believe it to encourage someone to fly a plane into our buildings. And so much more.

4. Mass Casualty: (MCI): any incident in which emergency medical services resources, such as personnel and equipment, are overwhelmed by the number and severity of casualties.

I know as a 6th grader I had no concept of 3,000 people being killed in one location alone. But I did understand that my family wasn’t with me, and that I wanted them to be. I knew what it would be like to be that family waiting for their dad to call home. And I understood that a lot of dads wouldn’t come home that night.

5. Hero: [heer-oh]: noun: a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave and noble qualities.

For the first time in my life, I saw true, no-holds-bar heroes. They ran into that plume of gas and debris, and fire, to save someone else’s life. I will never forget that for all of my life. The greatest love is that of laying your life down for that of your brother.

6. Ground Zero: at its purest definition, this is the point on the earth closest to a detonation. That was where those families lost their loved ones.

We still talk about it today the way we did that day. It’s still observed as a place of remembrance. It’s a place of great unity. It’s a place of great American pride. It’s a place that deserves our honor forever.

7. Hope: /h-oh-p/: noun: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

I knew that I had hoped for things in life. I even probably understood it better than most my age because I had already faced childhood cancer, but 9/11 changed what that word meant in a great way. We could have given up, but hope won’t allow that. Instead, we hoped. We hoped for an end of terrorism just as fast as we learned what it was. And we hoped that we could return to America and so many families what they lost that day.

12 years later, us 20-somethings are older. We are more America than we were then. And we’re proud to say that no matter how those words changed our lives, America still hopes. We hope for life for those who hurt us to change, we hope for our own understanding of the need of compassion and selflessness, and we hope always for freedom. Because that’s what we are. Land of the free. Because of the hope of the brave.

We’re America – we won’t forget and we’ll always have infinite strength in our hope.

…because love wins.

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