This Perspective originally aired September 25, 2001.
I’m 26 years old. My generation has often been criticized as either cynical or apathetic. In truth, I’ve never felt the connection between the threat of foreign aggression and the safety of my community. I was born after Vietnam. The Gulf War felt like a distant social studies lesson. I’ve enjoyed the spoils of globalization, travelling freely throughout the world. And I entered the work force during the strongest economy in decades.
In the face of our nation’s tragedy and suffering, who am I to have an epiphany? I hold instead to the meaning that comes from smaller observations. Recently I’ve been thinking of the moments between events, moments when we have the power to act even when these actions lead to our own demise. Between the terrorist attack and the World Trade Center collapse, firefighters rushed into the disaster. Between the hijackers violent takeover and the actual explosion, passengers dialed loved ones to report the hijack. The beauty in these moments is that we don’t know what comes next and we have hope. That hope leads to action. We’re in the midst of recovering from tragedy but we’re also in this weighted moment before; before our response, before our retaliation, before the unknown. We mustn’t get lost in feelings of powerlessness. Had passengers on United Flight 93 understood themselves as powerless we might have no White House.
Americans may never feel safe again. But I believe my generation has lost only the privilege of our ignorance which isn’t privilege at all. It is a time to risk complacency and take action in the spirit of hope. Read. Educate ourselves. Connect to our communities. Write. Patron the business of Muslim Americans. Call Congress. Call our moms, our families. Express our desire for peace, or for war. Believe that each action we take, no matter how small, changes the future. This is the time to believe in the power of our voices and our vote and to create connections that defy cynicism and apathy.
With a Perspective, I’m Jessi Hempel.