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Nine Eleven

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I didn’t take 9/11 very seriously when it happened (I wrote about comedy’s place in tragedy last year). I was 13, and I lived in a suburb in Minnesota. The day was filled with jokes about planes aiming for the buildings in our town: Go ahead, take out the teen center and ice rink. Nail the McDonald’s downtown.  That was how my classmates and I felt that day; there was no danger, no threat to anyone close, no damage done in our world.  We made jokes because we didn’t understand why our teachers were so solemn, so quietly fearful of how everything would turn out and what the ramifications of the attack would be.

They remembered the draft and they remembered Vietnam, so at that moment all of our teachers and parents probably had visions of their students and sons forced to wear camouflage, ready to fight another guerrilla enemy in a long war. History was again going to be repeating itself, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

But there wasn’t a draft, only a generation of volunteers heading to the Middle East to fight for whatever we had lost that day. And many battles have been fought, and many lives have been lost, and many things will never be the same.

What happened and what changed and what evolved in the last 10 years is nothing short of astonishing.

We’re still involved in the same wars. We’ve seen the feeling of unity and “God Bless America” patriotism mutate into polarized political factions.  One of them is an overwhelming celebration of anger, fear and jingoism hiding as“Average American” patriotism. The other party is full of idealists hiding under a veil of irony and cynicism because they just might actually believe in the “Hope and Change” rhetoric of yesteryear. Everything is black and white. And anyone in the middle better duck and cover, because there isn’t a place for reasonable people who see value in both sides. Politics isn’t a buffet, it’s a prix fixe menu.  If you aren’t with us, you’re against us.

Economically, we’ve seen empires crumble, then banks crumble, and then we crumbled. Jobs were lost, and many more Americans had to deal with layoffs and job reductions. Gas shot up, loans went unpaid, and houses still remain foreclosed. The rich get richer, the poor poorer. Again, the middle is no place to be.

We’ve now fully realized that we’re on our own. The institutions won’t make us whole. Our political parties will only keep fracturing and moving towards the poles. The banks will let us down, religion will not save us, schools can barely teach us, and the government cannot protect us.

But, as the Springsteen song goes, “at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.” We still have hope. The internet has evolved from a place for nerds to talk about episodes of The Simpsons and Star Trek into an all-encompassing ecosystem of its own. Social media creates communities of geographically-displaced human beings, and is even aiding in revolutions across the world. Pop culture is making us smarter and more aware. There is some light, even if it isn’t that much.

There will be good years, and bad years, and we will keep moving forward. Just remember that good things will keep happening. Kids will still laugh, friends and families will still get together, and comedians will still tell jokes. We will still smile. We have our freedom, and no group or institution or moment has been able to take that away. And we will never forget one of the moments that changed everything and defined our generation.

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