Fifteen years ago, everything changed.
We witnessed the worst terrorist attack on American soil -- live, on television. All of it seemed unreal; events we had never imagined.
That morning I tried to call my relatives who worked in the Twin Towers to see if they had escaped the destruction.
All circuits were busy. I kept hearing that recording.
The horror and fear of that day and the days that followed remains vivid. The stories and images of those who died, the heroes who saved others, the families who lost so much, set against a backdrop of tears and anger. As an American Muslim, or anyone perceived to be, there was the added trauma of feeling displaced, under suspicion, or worse, attacked, in her own country. In the middle of that fragility, there was also a sense of coming together. There was a unity in politics and within our communities that many of us had not experienced before.
The current generation of parents raising young children didn't live through the Vietnam War or the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was Sept. 11 that changed us, and our country.
The aftermath led us into a terrible, prolonged war in Iraq. We sacrificed freedoms, a sacrifice lured by the promise of greater security. We turned a blind eye to human rights violations we scorn in other countries because we were told it was necessary to protect the nation.
Our children, born after those attacks, have never known what America was like before them.
By the end of this year, there will be about 60 million children, about eight times the population of New York, born in America since 9/11.
The oldest of these post-9/11 children are in high school, and more acutely aware of the political world around them, especially in this reality show of an election season.
How can they know the extent of everything that changed, all that was lost?
The post-9/11 children seem more jaded. The internet has exposed them to everything too early. They've watched videos of that day in classrooms. Maybe they didn't have a loss of innocence moment like we did, because when did they get to be innocents? Their generation's defining moment could have been the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. It wasn't the first school shooting, nor was it the worst, but the victims were so young. Adam Lanza, 20, murdered 20 six- and seven-year-olds -- first graders -- and six teachers. But unlike the seismic shift in priorities after the terrorists attacked, nothing changed after scores of school shootings. Well, we conditioned our children to be more vigilant and more afraid. We've taught them to always be on alert -- for school intruders, for online predators, for the next terrorist attack.
They've never known a nation at peace. They're growing up in an endless war on terror.
I asked my middle schoolers how they imagined the country was different before 9/11.
"Maybe there was less security," the younger one said, who spent much of the fourth grade worried about ISIS. The eighth grader wondered if there was less Islamophobia before.
They read the paper. Their generation has heard the rhetoric. They know how divided the country feels. They have their friends and schools and activities and typical adolescent pressures. But they experience it all within a chronic haze of anxiety that is our national landscape.
What a time to grow up.
Every year on this day, I remember the victims of those attacks and all the other losses that followed from those moments.
I mourn the lives lost and this seemingly endless state of war. I think of those who exploit national tragedies to tear us apart or to gain power or profit.
I mourn the country my children never knew.