In January, I took a few of my friends to Divine Liturgy at the Saint Nicholas National Shrine in Lower Manhattan for my 21st birthday. The original church had been completely destroyed in 2001 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The new church was awe-inspiring, a testament to the faith of those who had spent years working to rebuild what had been so tragically lost. After Liturgy, I walked down to the tranquil 9/11 Memorial with my friends, trying to imagine what that area looked like 22 years ago. I had never seen the Twin Towers standing tall in all their legendary glory; it is almost impossible for me to picture the towers without black smoke and fire billowing from their windows.
I think every native New Yorker sort of dreads answering the question “Where were you on 9/11?” When I was growing up, my parents related to me their own versions of what they went through that day. My mom, who was pregnant with me at the time, was working as a pharmacist at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital on 64th Street. After watching the towers fall with her coworkers on the hospital TV, a Code Red alert was given, and she spent all day doing her best to treat both regular patients and injured first responders. My dad witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers first-hand and immediately joined hundreds of other New Yorkers in lines to donate blood. He then went back to the pharmacy where he worked; he helped those who needed medicine and care until the late hours of the night. He has told me about driving home alone in the dark, describing how eerie it was passing the emergency vehicles that patrolled the devastated and desolate streets of Manhattan.
Although I personally was not present on 9/11, I believe that I can understand the depth of the emotions experienced by not just my family, but by every New Yorker and every American. Yet I have come to think that many of those in my generation who did not witness or experience 9/11 for themselves have grown numb to the violence and pain of this tragedy—and others like it. When I was younger, 9/11 always used to be a sensitive and difficult topic to discuss among my elders. Now, it seems that Gen-Zers will often resort to making insensitive jokes about the deaths of thousands of people or that they even try to compare the 9/11 attacks to other unrelated and inexcusable acts of violence—slavery, or the removal of the Native Americans—detracting from the devastation of 9/11 itself.
Every life lost in pursuit of hubris is a waste and a tragedy. Say a prayer today for the 2,977 who died during the 9/11 attacks and the 5,000 and counting who have died because of 9/11-related diseases. But also remember and pray for those whose bitterness toward the world has numbed them from feeling empathy for the victims of such a devastating catastrophe.