For most American young adults and teens, 9/11 is nothing more than a story. None of them remember that day like those older will forever. They’ve been growing up and experiencing a post-9/11 world, something new and different than the world before. Many of them see terrorism as a very distant thing that happens in Europe, but not here. Ultimately, America is living in a bubble. Attacks that happen again and again in Europe are so far off, so far from our shores.
I got out of class one day and read the breaking news, “at least 120 dead” in Paris.
I woke up for class one morning and read the breaking news, “terror attacks in Brussels leave at least 30 dead.”
The first was almost 4,000 miles away. The second was about 700. The first was a 9 hour flight away. The second was a 12 hour train ride.
A switch flipped. Terrorism no longer felt like a distant possibility. No one in America was awake yet. The UNH cohort in Prato had each other, people they’d only known for two months, to read updates with. They had a European reality thrown in their faces. I cried before going to class that morning.
People roll their eyes when students talk about their time abroad. But how can they not when that was the turning point in their lives? How can they not when everything they knew about the world changed? How can they when everything they knew about themselves changed?
It’s easy to paint attacks like these as abstract, at least for Americans. It’s easy for new generations to paint 9/11 abstractly. It’s not a part of their reality. But it is for some and we all need to remember that. These are real people with lives we will never know, stories they will never tell. We need to empathize and offer support, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.