For many people on this day 13 years ago, terror reigned supreme; for many of them it also ended that day. Lives were cut short in a terrible, fearsome way, and the United States of America suddenly got to deal with a reality that much of the rest of the world lives with on a daily basis. And for most of us the terror did not end on September 11th, 2001. For most of us, the terror was only beginning.
In the days and weeks that followed, we were all afraid. Would it happen again? Could it happen again? We’d had a taste of vulnerability and we didn’t like it. We were willing to do anything to make sure that it didn’t happen again, because the terrorists had done their job. Our sense of security and invulnerability was shattered and we began skittering around the world like a cat on linoleum that had just heard a dog barking from outside the kitchen window. Never mind that the dog was outside, and we knew nothing of it other than the sound of its voice. We were spooked.
We gave up freedoms. We bullied other countries. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!” we shouted as we wolfed down our Freedom Fries and invaded unrelated countries that we have now left in shambles. I get it. We were afraid. Our knees jerked and we scrambled. It’s not okay, but I get it.
Here’s the thing. The terrorists want to spread terror. That’s why we call them that. Yes, I know it is now our default term for anyone that kills someone else in the name of a cause unrelated to a flag that is currently flying at the United Nations, but really, the name as it was originally intended is fitting. These people have no power but that you fear them. So don’t.
The world is not a safe place. It has never been a safe place. It will never be a safe place. There are pockets of relative safety, and Americans have been living in a great big pocket for so long that we almost think it is normal. And honestly, it is still safe. From terrorists anyway. We have so many things to be afraid of (domestic violence, poverty, global environmental destruction, the thought that someday Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift might get married and have a baby leprechaun, spiders, etc.), but we must not give in to the fear that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are trying to instill in us. They can grab an American, and they can kill him very publicly, but they cannot kill you. This overblown, overproduced show of force is only to shake us up. If they had real power, they would be here killing us right now. Is someone killing you right now? Then please stop reading this and call 911.
This is not to say that we don’t need to stop them. We do. If you feel the need to personally wipe all non-U.S.-sanctioned terrorism off of the planet, I’m sure there are recruiting stations that would be happy to sign you up. And we need to take steps to keep our citizens safe as they travel abroad. But it is a challenge that needs to be met with clear-headed determinism. This is not something we can do if we are afraid. So relax. Take a deep breath. Be like Elsa and let it go. Live in a way that honors the sacrifices of the people who died to keep you free and safe. Change what you can, deal with what you can’t, and don’t be afraid of the bogeyman. He’s real, but trust me, he’s not under your bed.