I have my reservations about this post. I lost no friends or family, no one I knew personally. I’ve never even set foot in New York City — before 9/11 or since. I haven’t seen Ground Zero or the Pentagon or the Pennsylvania field where United 93 went down.
On paper, you’d be hard put to find anyone in this country more removed from the events of that day — which is why I hesitated to write this post at all. Nothing trivializes 9/11 more than one person distilling events of crushing national significance down to its impact on himself (or herself). That is definitely not my intention.
If I have an intention, it’s to remember. Nine years and two children later, my recollection is both monumental and vague. But I know someday my boys will ask me about it. Maybe during a history lesson. And vague recollections won’t really help them understand.
I was getting ready for work that Tuesday morning. Most days, I would turn on Good Morning America, half-listening to the news while I dawdled over my makeup (I wasn’t a breakfast eater), eventually coasting into work a comfortable 15 minutes late.
September 11, 2001, started out that way. I remember hearing a bulletin about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, but details were sketchy and the media, as I recall, treated the crash as an accident. Terrorism seemed like the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Blissful ignorance evaporated less than 15 minutes later when the second plane hit.
About the time I should have been leaving for work, I watched the South Tower fall on live television. All I could think about was the repetition of the news anchors: 50,000 worked in those buildings, 200,000 people visited every day. How many people were inside? What about children? Were there children inside?
I made it to work, mostly because I couldn’t bear to watch the news anymore. But my office mate and I hovered over the radio all day. News of the North Tower’s collapse. News that NYC hospitals were braced for an onslaught of casualties and authorities had requested tens of thousands of body bags.
It amazes me now how little we knew that day.
For hours, rumors circulated about other planes — four, six, even a dozen — headed for Washington, D.C., or points unknown. The attack on the Pentagon and rumors about an unexplained crash in rural Pennsylvania left a dark cloud of possibility over us. No place felt safe. Every place in America seemed vulnerable.
Nine years later, I can make no more sense of the events of 9/11 than the moment I watched the South Tower crumble. We know, certainly, about the particulars. The names of the victims, the ideology of the perpetrators and their means of destruction. We’ve heard stories of the heroes and the survivors. But extra facts don’t penetrate the granite face of cold-blooded murder. No matter what I know, I can’t say I understand.
Those of us not bereaved by 9/11 have also had time to become jaded about it all. The flag-waving “fad” of patriotism came and went — at least for some people. Newscasts eventually moved beyond blow-by-blow analysis, the exploitation of the victims and their families, even the random conspiracy theories. We’re not supposed to refer to “The War on Terror” anymore; that vernacular belongs to a previous Administration.
It’s hard to believe any of us could forget what we experienced that day — even for people like me who watched it happen from a thousand miles away. But I think we have forgotten. Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s old hat now for most of us, better left in the past.
But the families of those who died remember. The children who will never meet their fathers will be taught to remember. The men and women who threw themselves into harms way to save lives — or at least recover the dead — remember.
Our enemies remember, too.
No matter how many 9/11 anniversaries I live to see, I will remember that day, remember those who died, and remember why. I will teach my children to remember. America’s enemies will return. Only by remembering can we prepare ourselves for what (still) lies ahead.
God bless the families of those who died nine years ago today. May you find comfort knowing your loved ones are not forgotten. God bless America!