14 years later

With the 14th anniversary of the earth-shattering tragedy that was September 11th approaching this week, and being lucky enough to be in New York, I visited the 9/11 Memorial today. I'd been to the exhibit in the Newseum in Washington D.C., which was, for lack of a better word, chilling. But I don't think I've been back to Ground Zero since before the attack.

The memorial was surprisingly uplifting. In the Newseum, there was this permeating feeling of despair; we watched news reports of the Twin Towers falling and saw the wreckage from the site of the attack.

But being at the memorial felt very serene. I think the design of it is incredibly beautiful and fitting. I could've watched the water fall and spiral down the center for hours. It was praised for its use of negative space, to connote profound loss and emptiness, in the midst of the busy city.

I went around both pools, reading all of the names engraved in the bronze, and it hurt my heart a little bit. So many lives lost, in a single instant. Some people placed flowers in the names. They stood out, among all the rest, tiny bursts of color in the wall of bronze.

It was over a decade ago and it's still so relevant. And yet there are far more present dangers and still we dismiss them. I don't mean any disrespect toward the people who died that day by derailing the conversation. But the reason I think it's important to talk about the attack in a larger context is that I don't think they should have died in vain, and we should do everything we can now to prevent a tragedy like that from ever happening again. And before we start the witch hunt for terrorists in airports and overseas, we should start with what's taking place on our own soil.

Since 9/11, airport security has increased tenfold (and decreased slightly in recent years, but still). Not three months ago, some angry, racist trash shot up a historic church in South Carolina, and we still have had no change in gun control laws.

And it's so disrespectful, to be honest. It's basically saying that the murders of the nine people in church don't matter as much as the lives lost on 9/11, simply because the threat of terrorism wasn't carried out by someone wearing a turban. We call him the shooter "troubled kid" because he's white, but he's a terrorist just like the rest of them. And it's disgusting.

While crime ceased for a while following the tragedy on September 11th, anti-Muslim hate crimes are at an all-time high, five times more than pre-9/11. There's this culture of fear that has taken root in America, that encourages a hatred of outsiders and foreigners, that breeds racism and intolerance. Which is exactly the opposite of what America is supposed to represent. The fact that we hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of radical terrorists is a dangerous mindset. Meanwhile, we continue to excuse the behavior of white American terrorists as "psychopathic" or "disturbed," while black American citizens are gunned down because they appear older than their actual ages or because they appear threatening.

There's a pear tree in the Memorial Plaza, called "the survivor tree," because after the 9/11 attack, it was found badly burned and damage, but nursed back to health and replanted on Ground Zero. The website proclaims that, "Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth."

And I think that's very poetic. It shows that life goes on. Like the flowers placed in the names, it shows that there's often beauty behind unimaginable horror. But it's also a standing reminder that with the right amount of care, we can come back from tragedy, stronger than ever.

And we never forget.