Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

O Shopper Columns


Last month, the 13,238 American babies born on 9/11/2001 turned 19 years old. Next month, those "babies" will vote for the first time in a presidential election.

Those "babies" have no memory of 9/11- as Garrett M. Graff points out in a new book, The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11. Through interviews with a score of young people born on that fateful day, Graff learned that the oral histories they inherited influenced them more than any memories.  Having her birthday also be a national day of mourning led one young woman to feel that she been born on "the worst day." Another shared how her parents spoke of her birth as a gift from God on a day when the world seemed to be imploding on itself.
In conducting these interviews, Garrett was struck by the fact that Americans born on 9/11/2001 had never known a time when their country was not at war. The 9/11 attacks led to the fighting in Afghanistan, which continues to this day. It is unprecedented in our history that a group of Americans would go from birth to adulthood without experiencing a single year of peace.

Despite being raised on stories about 9/11, the events that most significantly affected these young Americans were school shootings- beginning with the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Many spoke of the anxiety they experienced growing up as they wondered what they would do if a shooter attacked their school.

These 9/11 babies view issues of race and LGBTQ rights very differently from those born just a few years earlier in the 1990s. The first president they remember was President Obama. This, coupled with the fact that African-American and Hispanic artists have dominated popular music for the past 20 years, has made them more accepting of racial differences and more active in denouncing racism. Same-sex marriage, legalized in Massachusetts when the 9/11 babies were three years old and nationally by the time they were 14, makes one of the most contentious social issues a non-issue for these young people.

By the time the 9/11 babies were in first grade, the Great Recession was wreaking havoc with their families' finances. And just after they entered college and the workforce, COVID-19 caused the world as they knew it to shut down.

With all of this, one might assume that the 9/11 babies are depressed and cynical. Surprisingly- miraculously, I would say- the opposite is true. Most of them see Americans in their mid-to-late 20s as weary and cynical, while they view the future with hope and optimism. "Things can only get better," one young woman observed. Another young man added, "We could be in a rough patch for a while, but in the end, collectively, we will figure it out and get back on track."
Such optimism might be the most potent force to arise from the ashes of 9/11.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.