How 9/11 Made me a…

How 9/11 Made me a…

I am not an American.  I am Canadian.  However much like many people from all over the world I was changed by the

A building still scared by conflict induced flames in Granada, Nicaragua

events of 9/11, and this is the story about how 9/11 made me a…

As a high schooler I was a horrible student, I did just enough work to skim by unnoticed.  The class I hated most was English, I never did understand how we were meant to interpret the meaning of a certain poem.  My answers always included “well, that depends on how you interpret it.”  I had a hard time focusing long enough to write a concrete essay, and actually in my senior year only submitted 2 of the 4 essays required.  Somehow, I managed to get by.  However, I always had in interest in what was going on in the world. As a kid I had, and still to this day have, a giant book called “A Big Big World Atlas” which I used to stare at and study at length.  However my true passion was sports.

My usual high school routine consisted of getting up at around 7am and driving into school hoping that I had enough free time before classes to shoot some baskets (and if I didn’t have time I’d usually get some shots up anyways).  In my entire life I had never turned on the television before leaving for school, but for some reason that morning I did, and to this day can never really explain why I had.  I turned the television on and the tube was already showing the national news, although I thought that what was playing must have been a movie.  It wasn’t until after a couple stunned minutes that I realized that what I was seeing was actually happening live.  Just a few seconds after realizing what was going on, I saw the second plane hit the second tower in real time and in complete and utter shock. I yelled at my dad to come down stairs, he was busy getting ready for work, and didn’t understand the urgency in my voice.  As he eventually walked down the stairs and looked at my confused face I looked at him and said “Dad, I think we’re at war.”

The desert mountains from the constantly fought over Sinai Peninsula.

After remaining glued to the television the remainder of the day, without a thought of shooting or dribbling my basketball, my mind raced a thousand different ways, and I needed a way release.  I sat down in a bed with a piece of paper and a pen and wrote “Today will be remembered forever as the day my world’s peace ended.”  Because, you see, the world I lived in, the Canadian world from the 1980s on, had never really had strife and confrontation we never felt the tragedy of war so close to home.  And in my cardboard box of a life, world war only existed in books, on movies, and most of all in the past.

As I sat down on that bed, a place I still do much of my writing, the words just seemed to flow from my brain to the paper without a medium slowing the process in between.  Without editing a word of the things that I wrote I handed in the paper to my English teacher the next day on loose leaf paper as one of my 2 remained essays that were due.  The following day she came to me and said “Brendan, 9/11 has made you a writer.”

However what I soon found was 9/11 made me more than a writer, it made me aware, it made me engaged, and it made

Many military coup d'etats took place in this plaza in Guatemala City, Guatemala

me a world citizen.  I began to look beyond 9/11 only to discover that “own world’s peace” had been broken for a while, and that conflict raged on in parts of the world I used to look at on my “Big Big World Atlas” and dream of visiting.  In my head it made no sense.  For the life of me I can’t understand why people kill on such petty grounds.  In a way, 9/11 made me an activist.

What’s more is that these events strengthened the world’s call on me.  I no longer wanted to learn about the world through the screen of my television.  I wanted to go out and explore it on the ground, I wanted to not only learn where war and conflict have happened but more importantly I wanted to know why it happened.  Since that day I’ve talked to anti-western world Muslims in Egypt, former Sandinista members in Nicaragua, and people greatly affected by civil war in Colombia and Guatemala.  In the end 9/11 also made me a traveler and a journalist.

As the years have passed by so quickly I can’t believe how long ago that day was.  And I can’t help to wonder whether if that event never did occur if I would be on the path that I am now.  It seems that tragedy can either inspire or destroy, and I strongly believe that both are happening right now; although I hold out hope that the prior will win out this psychological war.  I heard on Monday (Sept. 11, 2010) hundreds of stories about how the events of 9/11 inspired people to be firefighters, policemen and women, medics, activist, and more; many of those stories are very insipiring and encouraging.  In the end, we must look back at those horrible events and think that no matter how tragic that day was, as long as 9/11 made us all better people in the long run, then at least the thousand who died that day did not die in vain.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Very interesting perspective on 9/11 Brendan, and crazy you had that ‘sense’ to turn on the TV that morning. I’m curious, who was the English teacher who you wrote that for?

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    • Hey Mike, Good to hear from you! It was Ms. Barker… lol

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  2. Very true Brendan! 9/11 inspired me to pursue my master’s degree after realizing life was too short and I was wasting time in a career I did not truly love.

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  3. I really understand your perspective of 9/11. I too am Canadian and was in High School when it happened. I also remember at first thinking what I was seeing on the TV screen was a movie, and being stunned in horror when I found out that it wasn’t. I think every generation has a moment that defines and reshapes them in a historical context. Sadly 9/11 I believe is this generations moment, because no matter who you are or where you were, that day everything changed forever, and it won’t ever go back to the way it was before. I didn’t really consider writing until many years after, but 9/11 did make me more aware of what was happening outside my fairly sheltered life.

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  4. Wow, very touching Brendan. I also woke up to the news and witnessed the second crash. It was my first week or so of grade 9 and we all got called into the gym for an assembly where Mr. Clark gave his speech. I remember being concerned for what more was to come from the attack, but also being so grateful that I lived in the sheltered life that we had in small town Alberta.

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  5. Wow. I was living in WA state when it happened. I was still asleep. A friend from Alabama called me and said “TURN YOUR TV ON RIGHT NOW!”

    It made me start to want more meaning in my life. The brave people of Flight 93 affected me the most. I wonder if I can be as brave.

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  6. I was in Helsinki when this happened. On 9/10 people in the streets were hugging me. The next day I left for St. Petersburg – people hugged me there too. It was a moment of great solidarity. A lost opportunity.

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  7. This post is amazing. Very moving and well written, congrats!

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