Learning From Tragedy

On September 8, 2001, my twelfth birthday, I passed through TSA with ease and enjoyed a leisurely flight home from my cousin’s bat mitzvah. Three days later, flying lost all its tran­quility, becoming an intensely anxious experience for me. I feared an attack each time I traveled, yet I grew deeply fascinated with terrorism. Like Marlow’s journey, a desire to understand what I feared propelled me toward this heart of darkness. But before hoping to comprehend terrorism’s motivations, I needed to overcome the associated fear. This proved extremely difficult, and it was not until my freshman year at Colgate that I took the necessary steps.

This first required me to open up to a confidant. A little background: as an adolescent I tended to keep many issues hidden from my parents, including this fear (admittedly, I still con­ceal certain things, but I’m learning); I was always just “okay.” But my mind raced constantly, and I questioned why no one else seemed to fear the possibility of an attack. I felt ashamed, which only fed more oxygen into an already flaming anxiety. However, once at college, after struggling to adjust to a new place, I realized sharing information with my parents could be cathartic, even life-altering. The realization that everyone carries baggage is empowering.

A Peace & Conflict Studies class sophomore year inspired another epiphany: I could actually study the logic of terrorism. Finally, after a failed attempt at pre-med, dabbling in psy­chology and philosophy and struggling to find an academic niche, a guiding light led me to key courses like Islam & the Modern World, International Security and eventually lit a path to Amsterdam: one of the hearts of tension between Islam and the West. Back from abroad and now a senior, I am writing my thesis on European counterterrorism policy. It always felt inappropriate to be affected by 9/11, because I didn’t know anyone who died. But it overwhelmingly influenced a particular life path, a fact I learned about myself through writing this column. Now, on September 8, 2011, ten years after 9/11 and my 22nd birthday, I no longer fear flying. But as I ponder leaving home for D.C., it seems my self-awareness is still in its early stages. Even if I do not end up there, I hope I always take the time to reflect upon 9/11’s importance.

Contact Jesse Listernick at [email protected].