The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, is one that is forever etched in my memory. Shortly after 7 a.m., my mother woke me - not in a gentle way, but in a sort of panic.
"An airplane has flown into the World Trade Center," she said.
Groggy, I sat up in confusion. I was 12 years old and did not really understand what was happening. I wondered how a plane could miss the runway by so much.
As I walked out of my room, the television was on and I sat there in horror watching the second plane hit the second tower. Not long after, the first tower fell, followed by the second. These giant architectural gems fell with the ease of a child dismantling their LEGO buildings.
Until it was reported that al-Qaida flew the planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, it did not occur to me that these crashes could have happened on purpose. I did not understand the complexities of human nature, nor was I aware that people overseas despised our country so much.
That day at school a motivational speaker came to host an assembly on the importance of tolerance, acceptance and being kind to others. The morning assembly consisted of our speaker standing on the auditorium stage dumbfounded. He said that everything that had happened that morning underscored the importance of his message, and radically changed the presentation he had planned. The next hour consisted of questions and an urgent push for students to be supportive of each other regardless of race, gender, religion, disability or political affiliation.
That day the normally noisy halls were dead quiet. Students wept and others sat in class quietly. Several classmates had family or friends in New York.
As the month progressed, more and more information came out regarding the attacks. Some speculated that the plane that went down in the Pennsylvania field was headed for the White House. Al-Qaida took responsibility for the attacks.
Oddly, baseball is what helped me make sense of everything. That year the Arizona Diamondbacks faced the New York Yankees in the World Series. While games were halted in light of the attacks, once they resumed I saw America shine in the darkest of her hours through her favorite pastime.
When players and coaches spread the large American flag across almost the entire field, I knew that we were not united by anything more than the simple fact that we were all American.
The series was filled with all the drama a good championship should have. Four games in Arizona and three in New York brought the country together. The grace, talent and tension represented the best that America has to offer and gave hope to a nation that had little at that moment in history. From the singing of "God Bless America" at the seventh-inning stretch to the ceremonial pitch thrown out by then-President George W. Bush, the series displayed an overwhelming amount of patriotism.
In the following years I formed a picture of the world, largely influenced by this watershed moment in history, and it turned out to be unique to my generation. I saw things as pre-9/11, post-9/11.
On Sept. 11, 2001, we woke up to a fundamentally different world; one characterized by a new and abstract War on Terror. This time we didn't know our enemy. They resided in the mountains of Afghanistan and fled to Pakistan.
Over the next decade, the government's new ability to chase down terrorists eroded the line between civil liberties and necessary government regulations.
Then on May 2 of this year, Osama bin Laden, the figurehead of al-Qaida and the man responsible for much of the 9/11 planning, was taken down by a team of special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
As details of the mission came out, it became clear that this was like an action movie. Newspapers published pictures of Americans celebrating the moment, and some people criticized others for celebrating a death. But this was not a party to commemorate a murder: This was an acknowledgement that a generation who grew up in the shadow of a tragic event felt freed by his receiving justice.
While we can never go back to the world as it was before Sept. 11, 2001, we again woke up in a fundamentally different world on May 2, 2011. America triumphed over her most menacing enemy of the past decade, once again proving that the United States will pursue justice until it is served.
While al-Qaida may be at its weakest now, there are still individuals out there that despise this country and the great things it stands for. But with the rise of Arab Spring, the democratic movement sweeping the Middle East, and the death of Osama bin Laden, Sept. 11, 2011, should not just be a somber remembrance of those who passed away a decade ago, but also a quiet observance that even though America came under attack, her ideals proved true and ultimately endured.
• Andrew Hedlund is a freelance writer and opinion editor for the State Press at Arizona State University.