After September 11: Questions, Fear and Waiting

By Laurie Mingolelli

I’ve heard it spoken and seen it in print more times than I can count this past week, but nonetheless it is still the most apt encapsulation of all that is running through my mind: The events of Tuesday, Sept. 11 have forever divided our lives into the “before” and the “after.” This sentiment transcends the usual categorizations of friends, housemates, classmates and university – rather, the “after” of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is a reality with regional, national and global implications, a reality in which all of us are inextricably linked. We are standing together at the top of a precipice so unnerving because no one can possibly know what to expect on the other side; we are standing together at the edge of uncharted territory.

The devastation resulting from these acts of terrorism was meant to drive us apart, to destroy our physical, psychological, economic and spiritual sense of well-being. But the human spirit is a lot stronger and resilient than the hijackers had anticipated. In contrast to their ultimate cowardice, we have more stories of sacrifice and heroism emerging from the rubble and debris with each passing day. In the words of a fellow classmate, I too “have never been prouder to be an American than I am today.”

Paradoxically, from these almost unspeakable acts of barbarism, a sense of unity and togetherness of which kind I have never witnessed before has emerged. The examples are endless: The students whose silent tears stained their faces at Friday’s candlelight vigil in Dahlgren quad, the thousands gathered at New York’s St. Patrick’s cathedral, the throngs of mourners waving American flags in Berlin, the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in Paris, the shops and businesses in Dublin that closed out of respect for the dead, the message from London of America as “our brother in arms, our brother in ideals.” I am relieved and comforted to know that other people in other places are grieving and distraught over this, that the immense burden of processing all of this is not ours to shoulder alone.

It is with much trepidation that I consider that a large part of what unites is the fact that no one knows what to expect. It was only a few months ago that I watched the Vietnam war movie Tigerland and turned to my friend and told him how relieved I was that I would never have to worry about that happening to my friends, my brothers, my loved ones. It may have been only three months ago, but it feels like years. It was, after all, in the before, when I still had the luxury of innocence.

In terms of our generation, we have been fortunate enough to have never experienced the horror of war – and I doubt I was alone in the naivete (or optimism?) that in this day and age, we wouldn’t have to. I was more than happy to take for granted the security and freedom that so many before me died to procure. Their legacy was for so long our everyday reality, and now in the after it feels like that is all hanging in the balance.

Logistically, there are so many unknowns to consider. It seems so strange to even write the words “we are at war.” A war unlike any other humankind has seen, with an undefined enemy who lurks behind shadows, one whose tactics defy even the most inhumane doctrines of war. Instead of avoiding civilian casualties whenever possible, this enemy delights in exploiting the unsuspecting civilian victim, its success contingent on using human beings as live missiles. How do we even begin to respond to such an enemy? There are no right answers or tactical maneuvers in such unprecedented circumstances.

We are in a role reversal of sorts; the inviolable America seemingly brought to its knees. I wonder, is it even a tiny bit as unsettling for Europeans to witness our vulnerability as it is for us as Americans to come to terms with it ourselves? Perhaps not, for many of them probably know all too well that there is no such thing as inviolability. Unfortunately, that was a lesson we had no choice but to learn last Tuesday.

Everyday life at Georgetown also seems to be uncharted territory in many ways. The hardest part of knowing how to act is just that – knowing how to act when faced with such an incomprehensible situation. What are the right words, the most appropriate actions? At times, when it hits me how lucky I am that my friends and loved ones are safe and accounted for, I feel almost guilty that I am so lucky. Why was I spared the grief and heartache that now belongs to so many at Georgetown? I try to get on with life as normal, but that is the problem – here in the after, what will our normal be? In the world that is Sept. 11’s legacy, there simply aren’t many answers, just questions, fear and waiting.

Laurie Mingolelli is a senior in the College and is assistant Viewpoint editor of The Hoya.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.