By: Rachel Marsden

The year 2001 will forever be defined by the horrible events of September 11th. It is being widely touted in year-end reviews as "the year the world changed". The attack on America and Western democracies has affected us all in one way or another. In taking stock of my own life over the past year, I’ve realized exactly how these events have affected both myself and others on a deeply personal level, and how they have redefined the world. Overall, it was a year of heroes—with some perishing, and others emerging.

Never will I forget waking up on the morning of September 11th and seeing the phenomenal explosion, followed by people jumping out of windows from the top floors of the World Trade Center. Having lived in New York City recently, I still vividly remembered taking the trip up to the outdoor observation deck of WTC Tower 2, and looking nearly 1,400 feet down at the world below. The thought of someone willingly leaping from such a height was horrifying.

As I sat in shock, glued to the television coverage, the tragedy quickly took on a face—and it was a familiar one. Barbara Olson, one of my greatest personal and professional role models, had perished aboard American Airlines flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon. Olson was a Hollywood producer, outspoken media commentator, author, lawyer, and a great person who loved life and lived it to the fullest. Although I didn’t always agree with her opinions, I admired her for her trademark grace-under-fire ability to take on any of her fellow pundits in a heated debate—all while having fun and keeping a smile on her face. Olson was the epitome of what I aspired to be in life—both as a person and as a journalist. And now she was gone.

Actors and other celebrities who typically looked completely at ease in front of the cameras appeared out of place, upset and uncomfortable as they tried to raise money for rescue and recovery. By contrast, police, firefighters and emergency personnel inadvertently had us riveted to our television sets as they performed countless acts of true heroism in a real-life drama.

Out of the ashes came other heroes as well. I watched as fellow young Canadian journalist, Ashleigh Banfield, reported live from the World Trade Center disaster, and later from various danger zones in Afghanistan. This is a woman who, earlier this year, explained to the Dallas Morning Star how she had almost given up on journalism to become a stockbroker because no one would hire her in Vancouver. Banfield has now defined herself as one of the most prominent media figures in the world, and—in the process—has inspired other young Canadian journalists like myself.

I had always admired New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and credited him with the fact that I always felt completely safe walking through Times Square at 5am each day on my way to the gym. But just last year, I read every morning in the New York Post about Giuliani’s battle with prostate cancer, his public split with his wife and their fight over Gracie Mansion, his affairs with an aide and a woman named Judith Nathan, and his withdrawal from the senate race against Hillary Clinton. Before September 11th, he appeared to be nothing but a lame-duck mayor waiting for his time in office to expire after 7 ½ years. After the events of September 11th, Giuliani galvanized his city, America, and the world. He became "Rudy the Rock"--the shoulder to lean on for widows of firefighters, police officers, and other victims of the attacks. He often attended up to four funerals per day. He was there to reassure us and to give us all hope and encouragement at a time when we were full of insecurity and doubt.

Another man who has been defined by the events of the past year is US President George W. Bush. Prior to September 11th, the only reason why anyone hung off his every word was to see if he would screw up. This was, after all, the man who had said, "they misunderestimated me." Boy oh boy, did they ever! President Bush rallied the world after the attacks, giving a rousing speech to Congress that received a standing ovation from every Democrat and Republican. And his diction was perfect. His approval rating soared to 90% in the popularity polls. The man who was formerly known for spending a great deal of his time at the White House working out and sleeping, got off the treadmill and confidently stepped forward to lead the world in the fight against terrorism.

As the New War ensued, a new Canadian hero emerged as well. While Prime Minister Jean Chretien angered Canadians with his initial ambivalence towards Bush’s war on terrorism, Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley was the first to step out of Chretien’s shadow and show support for the US. He signed a landmark deal to coordinate policy on tracking visitors, refugees and immigrants. It came as no surprise that Manley was the first to be thanked in a speech given by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

According to a recent Maclean’s Magazine/CBC News poll, we Canadians have been shaken out of our apathetic state by the events of 9-11. We now want more funding for our armed forces. No longer are we content relying on our "big brother" south of the border to defend us and fight our battles. Fifty-eight percent of us believe that Canada could become a terrorist target. We believe we are part of this war, and we want our Prime Minister and our government to act appropriately, swiftly, and decisively. We can only hope that, ten years from now, 2001 will be remembered as the year apathy died in Canada. The year Canadians stopped sleepwalking and started demanding much more of our government and of ourselves. Then those who died on September 11th will not have done so in vain, and every single one of us will be a hero in our own right.