Growing up in a climate of fear

For the children whose worlds have been shattered

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

At 10 years old, in the city of love and lights, I stood at the feet of the Eiffel Tower and looked warily around at the crowd. My mom was slowly dragging me toward the ticket booth so that we could climb the 674 iron stairs and take in the beauty and history of Paris.

All I could think was, “What if a bomb goes off while we’re up there? What if someone has a gun?”

I was barely over a year old when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left 2,996 people dead. I have no memory of the event, nor of the world before the towers fell. All I know is the fear and the violence that came after.

I’m reminded of that world I never knew every time I have to fly. Someone, often my parents, will tell a story about the days when you could “buy a ticket and just walk onto the plane.”

Courtesy photo.

When I would fly home from college, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses would caution everyone to report unattended baggage over the SeaTac airport loudspeakers. The threat of violence has become so normalized that it now features celebrity cameos.

Terror follows us from airports into crowded tourist spots and pervades the hallways of our schools. Growing up after 9/11 means living in the world of school shootings — 386 since the Columbine High School massacre, according to The Washington Post.

The destruction of the Twin Towers shaped the worldviews of those old enough to remember, but the pain that defines my generation is the constant fear of being murdered in the very classrooms where we learn our ABCs or take the SAT.

Every September we mourn the loss of life on Sept. 11, 2001 — even those of us who don’t remember. In high school, I would stare up at the flag at half-staff and wonder, “Why don’t we deserve to be mourned?” The nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise states that 12 children die each day from gun violence in the U.S.; altogether that’s 4,380 per year. The number falls on deaf ears.

Hate is an incredible motivator. In hindsight, it was much easier to rally around the victims of 9/11 when we had someone — however faceless — to blame. In the case of gun violence, we must face down poverty, mental health issues and ignorance, but most crucially of all we must confront ourselves. A drone strike won’t bring peace to the middle school hallways.

When former-President George W. Bush addressed the nation following the 9/11 attacks, he spoke of “the children whose worlds have been shattered” and of “all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened.” Members of my generation have spent 22 years growing up in a shattered world, never to experience that sense of safety. 

The War on Terror has gone the way of the Cold War — it’s been a part of us for so long that the fear has faded into life’s soundtrack, constantly influencing us, yet easy to forget if we aren’t paying attention. This doesn’t mean the scars are healing, only that we have new, louder fears.

We can’t claim to be free, or battling terror, while children practice hiding under their desks from armed assailants. As we remember all that we lost on Sept. 11, try to imagine a future that isn’t defined by pain. May the next generation be shaped by peace.

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