As a child of 9/11 reflecting on America's collective grief over the past 20 years along with my own for the death of my father, I wonder why we aren't grieving those lost in the pandemic in the same way.
When I was one month shy of turning 3, I lost my dad on 9/11. Nineteen years later, I am still grieving the loss of my dad. I am reminded constantly every year of my trauma from national anniversaries, physical memorials, and the outpouring of shares on social media so every Instagram story I flip through from my friends on the east coast is a picture of a gruesome fire or a grainy late-'90s picture of the Twin Towers every day on that day.
Right now, it is hard for me to not feel guilty about my grief because there is a present tragedy at hand.
We talk about 9/11 as a monumental loss to our country. And it was. We lost nearly three thousand innocent lives that morning – we live on in that sorrow and we will never get them back. We honor those who bravely attempted to save the endangered without a flinch, with pure selflessness and a duty to help their neighbor. We are constantly reminded to "never forget" 9/11 and how it devastated the U.S.
In the pandemic of COVID-19 in the USA, more than 190,000 innocent lives have been lost — so far.
Families have had to watch their loved ones suffer, or worse, get turned away from seeing their final moments due to social distancing. On April 7, Business Insider confirmed that the New York death toll had surpassed that of the lives lost on 9/11.
Why aren't we doing all we can to prevent this tragedy from growing?
Some 20 years later, it feels selfish to justify my grief of a national tragedy when one is happening around us and has no end in sight. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Americans united. We showed love and remembrance to honor our dead from being forgotten. We show up year after year for each other physically at memorials, at prayer services with bell tolls that mark the exact minutes of the attacks, and symbolically by reviving the subject in general media and social media. Year after year, we show our collective sorrow.
I have no idea what it would be like to see today's divisive America in response to our struggle with COVID-19 during the aftermath of 9/11.
I have no idea how one could be expected to grieve confidently in a safe environment and feel the support necessary to begin to move forward with life.
I don't see how I would have had the slightest chance of coping.
I grew up in the aftermath of 9/11. It was extremely difficult and unique from anyone else I knew to have to adjust my idea of a normal childhood to fit the life I was now given. I had to process death at such a young age and adapt to understand complex concepts of life (terrorism, death as permanent, etc.) that my developing cognitive abilities weren't ready for on top of my normal day-to-day requirements and life-learning.
9/11 changed the world. I had to hear about the subject all the time as a major current event – it was impossible to escape my trauma. But what wasn't making it even harder was that my peers, my teachers, my community all agreed that my suffering was warranted, and they showed their sympathy and support.
Similarly, this pandemic is actively changing our global society right now, and those fighting on the front lines and those grieving the loss of their family members cannot escape it for a second. They must face their trauma head-on every day, and they still aren't in the aftermath. And they don't get the privilege of getting to grieve in the safety of knowing it is justified. What if I was a grieving 4-year-old in the midst of public tantrums about refusing to give up the "freedom" to bring scissors or a water bottle through airport security? What if my friends' parents talked about how 9/11 was a hoax on the carpool to soccer practice? What if they complained about the time inconvenience and the stupidity of having to pass security checks to enter major NYC office buildings because they don't think terrorism will affect them?
I cannot imagine having to grieve a fresh loss right now because America as a whole cannot agree that this is a tragedy.
As I said, the pandemic has changed the world. This year, we have lost our lives as we knew them. We lost our sense of familiarity and normalcy. Countless citizens have lost homes, jobs, the basic life requirements of food water, and shelter. And on top of everything, we are losing our friends and family. I know we want restrictions to be done with and to access our normal lives again, but without eradicating the threat, the side effect of normalcy is a growing death toll.
Our trauma will only be prolonged. We were so quick to want to prevent 9/11 from happening ever again. We jumped to blaming entire Islamic nations on a senseless attack and moved to barricade ourselves with precautions so they couldn't hurt us again. Yet it is unfathomable for Americans to think that we, the greatest nation on earth, are to blame for our laughable response at containing the pandemic and should acknowledge our mistakes to bring us back to safety.
It's not the layperson's fault, unfortunately. Our leadership is failing us, assuring us with a smile that we aren't in the wrong. So instead, we are letting the buildings burn on, so deep in denial that anything we do as a country is wrong. We continue to blame outsiders for the emergence of the pandemic but ignore our failure to stop it in its tracks. Right now, we are supplying the tragic events – hurting other Americans by refusing to protect each other. We see the burning buildings but we're turning away the fire truck, selfishly prioritizing our own personal conveniences than acting with a duty to love and help our neighbors.
Nineteen years later, I feel almost guilty for grieving because there are so many more pressing issues that threaten innocent lives today.
But I am still grieving because it never really gets easier. I am grieving even harder this year because I ache in empathy for those around me who will soon know the same fate. Their loss will never get easier and being reminded of this world-altering event for the rest of their lives won't help ease the pain. People may be growing bored with quarantining themselves and desensitized to the dangers of outbreak risks, but those who have experienced personal trauma from the pandemic will never be desensitized.
Nearly 20 years later, it seems that people are starting to forget 9/11. My West Coast friends don't understand, and Gen Z is removed from even experiencing it. On Twitter, memes about the attacks are becoming more popular while the taboo shrinks with time passing.
We should still remember 9/11 and fight to never forget. But we should do this by taking action — applying what we learned then to our situation now.
Don't just share a post that says "hug your loved ones a little closer today" because the message you took away is that life is fleeting and you never know what could happen. There are ways we can unite together as we once did and show love to our fellow Americans during our present pandemic. My family's mantra is to "live the 12th" — to live each following day after our pain with the purpose of spreading love and peace. We shouldn't be fighting with our fellow man over whether or not we think we should wear a mask or causing strife with essential workers because our lives have been inconvenienced. Empathy for our neighbors has never been more important.
Never forget 9/11 by preventing further tragedy.
Never forget by wearing a mask and social distancing to decrease the risk of spreading disease.
Never forget by voting against Trump because he has become a ringleader of finding ways to turn us against each other — who has turned safety, health, and love for all Americans into a political agenda meant to tear us apart into a divided nation rather than one united in peace.
Today we grieve, tomorrow we live the 12th.