Friday, September 11, 2009

We Remember

Of course we remember. How could anyone forget that morning eight years ago?

Almost 3,000 people died at the hand of terrorists. So many more have suffered. The world has changed since airplanes were purposely flown into New York City’s twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Shanksville, Pennsylvania countryside.

We were all affected. We all lost our innocence that day.

For many of us, it was the birth of national terror -- something we had never felt before and never want to feel again.

The only solace is that we were not alone -- we were startled just as our neighbors were. It was the same feeling experienced
by countless others in and around cities across the land.

Our own feelings of horror were punctuated by empathy for innocent victims and their families, uncertainty surrounding what was happening, and the worst of all, being unable to imagine what, if anything, would happen next. We all remember where we were.

My husband and I were watching television when we saw what we thought was coverage of a high rise fire in New York City.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a beautiful late summer day that started just like any other. But as we watched our television set, the familiar device that delivers entertainment, laughter, and enjoyment, it was now the instrument of live, unedited horror.

It was surreal to hear the familiar voices of Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer as they brought us information just as it was beginning to unfold.

I recall being riveted in the moment, as another plane was visible in the sky. I remember thinking it was a mistake. My brain couldn’t grasp what my eyes were seeing. That second plane hit the second tower. It was unsettling, odd, didn’t make sense. My thoughts scrambled like the rapidly moving images on a slot machine just before it settles on a display.

Finally, it began to sink in, that someone did this on purpose; someone actually planned for this to happen. As the images in my mind slowed to a focus and understanding crept through me, I watched with shock trying to imagine how anyone could do such a thing -- to purposely cause mass destruction, mass casualties, and mass hysteria. At that instant, the scene we saw defied anything we knew to be true. I wondered how such fires could ever be extinguished.

Still shaken by the events, my husband and I both left for work. I was a reporter in a small newspaper office. On my ten-minute drive, I listened to the radio. When I heard the Pentagon was on fire, apparently another plane slammed into it, I heard a sound -- a kind of a high-pitched gasp -- that came from me, though I did not consciously make it. Tears poured from my eyes before I could even comprehend what I heard.

When I got to my destination, my co-workers were huddled around the television set. I joined them, unable to tear myself away. It was a Tuesday, so it was the day of the deadline for our weekly paper. We had to get the paper out. Last minute tasks were nearly impossible that day. And as each one was completed, I hurried to a back room to watch.

I spoke to a representative of the Red Cross, a friend of mine. The agency was suggesting that stores stock additional water and medical supplies. No one knew what to expect. A disaster plan, which had been devised for a perceived Y2K, the predicted chaotic event that never materialized at the turn of the twentieth century, was being implemented in small towns and cities all across the country. She urged everyone not to panic, but to stay informed.

I have no idea how the paper got printed that week. I’m not sure how anything got done in the weeks that followed. But it did. Life did go on.

The country was united in its grief. You could feel it. And you could see it. I remember the impressive images of American flags on display everywhere you looked -- on front porches and in yards, along streets, and in nearly every view.

But, nervousness gave way to resolve. People were nicer to each other. We all seemed to feel as though we shared the horror but weathered the storm. Hugs became the greeting of choice.

But, it didn’t last long. The commonality that brought us together was as delicate as a thread; it was frayed once again by actions that followed this tragedy.

In many ways we are all victims of Sept. 11, but we who survived, have an opportunity that nearly 3,000 of our brothers and sisters lost that day. We must use that opportunity to heal the wounds we suffered as a nation.

On this eighth anniversary of this horror, let us remember that out of this tragedy a kind of goodness emerged. We should embrace the good feelings that emerged, rather than dwell on the pain and loss. Life’s ironic lessons help us cope. And those lessons make us stronger. They encourge us to go on. It is called hope.