09/11/2012 01:12 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

Growing Up in the Shadow of 9/11

Today, the United States pauses to commemorate the 11-year anniversary of one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil. With tragic memories of the over 3,000 innocent lives lost and a raging war on terror, September 11 has made an impact on our nation that has forever changed the face of not just New York or the United States, but the world itself.

I was only five on September 11, 2001 when I heard that the United States was attacked. I still remember waking up that morning to see the television airing footage of the smoking Word Trade Centers, the stunned reporters continually repeating that the United States was under attack. My mom watched the footage, face ashen as she faintly commented on how she was planning a family trip for next summer to New York City in order to see the Twin Towers. Needless to say, that trip never happened.

Of course, even as a first-grader, I was saddened by the news that people had died -- I wrote in my diary, "Today was a very sad day" with a crude sketch of a frowning face, the limit of my artistic ability. Unfortunately, at the time, that was the extent of my understanding of what happened. I didn't comprehend the true enormity of the situation and how monumental this attack was, nor could I fathom the impact it would provoke. I couldn't recognize that September 11 wasn't just another news report about a car accident or an unarmed robbery, that it was one of the greatest calamities our nation has ever faced.

Over a decade later, at the age of 16, I now realize how September 11 has reshaped our nation. I grew up seeing us fight two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and understand that they began because of 9/11. I hear news reports about foiled terrorist plots and can trace these deep-seeded fears back to those attacks. I feel the increasing tensions between America and the Muslim world and know it stems from deep-rooted bitterness only exacerbated by September 11 and our subsequent raids. Yet I will still never be able to fully comprehend the emotions that gripped our nation in the aftermath of the attack. Reading articles and memoirs about the incident cannot recreate the atrocity that occurred, nor can speaking with those who witness the tragedies. In fact, to say that I do understand what grieving families felt and to empathize with their pain would be foolish, even insensitive.

My generation and I, however, still have a unique perspective on how the attacks have shaped America. Growing up in the post-9/11 era, our childhoods have been entirely altered by what occurred. For many, it prompted the first American war of our lives. For others, it instilled a sense of fear in them that will take many years to fully abate and may never go away. For all of us, it taught us how to stand in solidarity behind our flag in crises and to demonstrate to the world that we have not been defeated. September 11 transcended cultural differences, geographic boundaries, and political divides in a way almost nothing else could, and unified us as proud citizens of the United States of America.

Eleven years after 9/11, the nation has moved on and is now focused on upcoming issues such as education, the budget, and the upcoming 2012 presidential election. But even though we are now facing new issues to deal with and new problems to solve, as September 11 passes once more, we should not forget. We should stop to remember the ashen faces of our mothers and the stunned voice of the commentators as everyone scrambled to understand the magnitude of what had happened. We should stop to commemorate the victims, the response teams, and the soldiers, for their sacrifice; letting them be forgotten would be accepting 9/11 as a cold and distinct occurrence, not one that is still impacting our lives today. By working to remember, we can work to prevent. Only through recognizing and remembering September 11 for the tragedy that it was can we continue to ensure that an attack like this never strikes the heart of our nation again.