That’s how long it’s been for the grieving families of nearly 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001 — from Manhattan to Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
That’s how long it’s been since another generation of soldiers and their loved ones had to prepare and grapple with the reality of going off to war — a reality that hasn’t ended and has brought in another generation.
That’s how long it’s been since everyday tasks like going to the airport became an entirely different experience.
The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed our society forever. Virtually everyone alive can tell you where they were watching the World Trade Center, which was a marker of American success and progress, crumble to the ground in a fiery, smoke-filled cloud of terror. We watched live as people made the choice to jump to their deaths. We watched firefighters and police officers charge into the hellish scene never to emerge. We listened as a group on one flight tried, and succeeded, to thwart one part of the attack, but lost their lives in the process.
Eighteen years is how long it takes to reach adulthood, and as a nation we have had to grow and mature through this tragedy. Navigating our response — as individuals and as a country — to 9/11 has been difficult. This anniversary marks the beginning of when there will be legal adults who were either just born or not yet alive when the attacks happened. They and those younger will know this event that changed everything only from the stories we tell and the decisions we’ve made since.
We need to remember who we were before that fateful day, and who we’ve become since. When we say things like “never forget,” it’s important to really think about who and what we are remembering. The events and aftermath of 9/11 have understandably led to some of the most divisive and important political issues and discussions of our contemporary society. But no matter what side of those debates you land on, we should be able to agree that we can’t forget those who came together to help pull our nation out of the ashes.
Those first responders who lived also need to be remembered. Just this summer, controversy emerged as the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which pays out claims for deaths and illnesses related to the attack, was reauthorized by President Donald Trump. More than 40,000 people have applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending, according to Associated Press reports. The reauthorization came after several legislators were criticized for not showing up to a hearing regarding the legislation a month prior and failing to act to protect these heroes.
That criticism was justified and seemed to influence some positive change as Congress passed a bill ensuring that a victims’ compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money and Trump went on to sign it, according to AP reports.
This is the right example of never forgetting and doing our best to honor those impacted by 9/11. As that day becomes more of a part of history, we can’t forget that real people were and are still affected by it — and that should be in the front of our minds and hearts going forward.