This year, it’s different…

Let’s rewind to this exact date 15 years ago.

10-year old Morgan was sitting in her 5th grade class learning about social studies when, suddenly, there came a commotion from the library across the hall. My teacher rushed out into the hall and, when she returned, looked absolutely grief-stricken. She didn’t tell us straight out what had happened–we all knew that it was something big. Other teachers were turning on the TVs in their classrooms to watch the coverage. Since we didn’t have a TV in our classroom, our teacher gathered us to take us to the library, but the cable was shut off in the school before we could get there. My classmates were being pulled out of school left and right by their parents. At 2:30, classes released and I met my mom where she picked me up every day. The routine was the same, but the environment was different and it wasn’t until I got home that I learned why. As I laid in the floor of our living room eating a cheese sandwich, I watched the news footage of the terror attacks that had occurred earlier in the day. I watched people screaming and crying. I watched first responders climb over the rubble. I watched all of this unfold as my mother sat on the couch and cried.

Fifteen years and I still remember everything about that day in vivid detail.

I have participated in remembrance ceremonies and moments of silence every September 11th since then. I have felt the appropriate level of solemnity during those times and then gone about the rest of my day like normal. But this year…this year, it’s different.

As I walked through my small town in northern Moldova this morning doing my weekly grocery shopping, the song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” started playing through my headphones. Usually I would’ve skipped it (because it’s not really a “walking through town” kind of song), but today, I listened. I listened and I teared up behind my $10 Target sunglasses. I listened and remembered what my life felt like 15 years ago. I listened and felt pain and empathy for those most affected by the tragic events of that day.

I am not sure why this date is having such a significant impact on me this year.

Maybe it’s because I’m devoting the next 2 years of my life as a representative of peace and friendship on behalf of the United States of America.

Maybe it’s because, as I talked about today with my host dad over a couple of beers, I saw the sadness and empathy in his eyes.

Maybe it’s because the toast given at family lunch today wasn’t the typical “Viva” or “Sanatos”, but rather a toast remembering the people of America and what we went through on this date.

Maybe it’s because, as I grow older, I become more aware of what those events meant and how much being an American has shaped who I am and the kind of life I lead.

Maybe it’s because I am, for the first time in my life, not physically surrounded by other Americans to stand in solidarity with on this date.

I don’t know what it is, but I do know it’s different.

I think September 11, 2001 is the date when I decided that I wanted to devote my life to people in some capacity. Regardless of how many times I’ve changed my mind about what I want to do or where I want to be, that desire has remained constant. I want to help people achieve. I want to help people understand the world around them. I want to serve as a positive representation of what America truly is, not what the media suggests it is.

It is easy for Americans to become jaded, especially with this 3-ring circus of an election happening right now. We bicker on Facebook about stupid stuff. We judge others based on their skin color, their sexual preferences, their social class. We often don’t love our fellow man the way we ought to. There were so many terrible events that followed 9/11, but the one thing that still inspires me is the way the American people came together. Regardless of our differences, we embraced one another. Loved one another. Cherished one another.

So, on this day, cast aside the hatred you felt for those who acted against us. Cast aside your bigotry and discrimination against those different than you. Instead, love your fellow man. Cherish this life and this country you’ve been given. Stand proudly with people of different races, sexual orientations, social classes, religions, etc. and remember what it truly means to be an American.

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