I hate September 11th but I am writing this for my 14 year old daughter who is blessed to not have been old enough to remember that day. But it is important to explain, to pass along the stories, the emotions, the tears and the loss. It is important that we never forget.
No matter how many years go by, it is still always the most vivid, gutwrenching and sickening feeling that surrounds me when 9/11 rolls around. Thirteen years seems like it should be a long time. To me, it’s yesterday, as it is to so very many.
Everyone has their “where were you” moment on that morning. For me, it was an incredibly beautiful sunny day, just me and my two year old daughter out in the back yard of our Alexandria home. I was clipping herbs to take to a new neighbor whom I was meeting for coffee at her house around 10am. I’ll never forget how beautiful the sky was that day. Perfect really.
Out of nowhere, I heard the loud rumbling of thunder, really really loud. “Weird” I thought to myself. Seriously not a cloud in the sky. It never even occurred to me that it wasn’t thunder.
I gathered the child, gathered my herb basket, and headed to Jackie’s house. She had the TV going and was glued to it. By this time, the third plane had hit the Pentagon, 9:37am, and the first tower had just fallen, 9:59am. Then the plane crash in Shanksville, 10:03am. There was so much all at one time, and I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening. It didn’t seem real, more like a movie. The two of us just sat there, tears running down our faces. Jackie’s husband was on Capitol Hill and couldn’t get out of the city. Rumors of another plane headed for D.C. were being tossed around. My cell phone rang. It was Gary. He was supposed to have been at a meeting in the wing of the Pentagon where the plane hit, but it was moved at the last minute. He was driving on 395 not a mile from the Pentagon when the plane slammed into the building. Suddenly the thunder made sense. It wasn’t thunder at all. My heart was in my throat. Then cell service shut down. Jackie couldn’t reach her husband. We sat there together, in silence as we continued to see the news reports roll in. The second tower collapsed, 10:28am. I felt physically sick. All of those people, their children, wives, husbands, parents, sisters, brothers. Cameras rolling. That awful “tweeting noise” breaking the silence of the streets of NY. It was the radios of the firemen and police officers. I can still hear that tweeting noise when I close my eyes and think of that day.
Jackie’s husband did come home, as did Gary. It was actually Gary’s birthday but there was no celebration. We just watched the news reports roll in, the footage of the injured, the horrible gray dust that covered everything and anything. The gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon…the field in Shanksville where it seemed the plane itself had turned to dust when it hit the ground with such unbelievable force. I didn’t sleep for days, I just watched the news, all the news, any news I could find on the tv. It was the early days of the 24 hour news cycle, and I believe that after that day, none of us ever watched the news in the same way again.
The following weekend I had plans to see an old high school friend in Caldwell, NJ, just across the river from the downtown Manhattan skyline. That Sunday morning before I left, she and I drove to a park that overlooked the river and the devastation. We stood there and cried as we watched the billowing smoke, still rising from the ruins, on the other side of the water. The Towers, where I had been many times to meet up with a banker I dated a long long time ago when everything seemed easy and fun. Happy memories, good times. All gone.
Everything changed. Everything. We all, collectively as a nation, wrapped our arms around each other, and tried to make sense of it all. There was no sense to be made. None. It still doesn’t make sense. The loss of life, the terror that we all felt for such a long time afterwards…no one felt safe, only incredibly vulnerable. Honestly, I still feel vulnerable.
But out of the madness emerged something good…so many acts of selflessness, courage,compassion and humanity. People helping people, helping families find their loved ones, helping recover the smallest of personal items of those that had perished. Everything had meaning and importance, because there was so little left to even show that those who perished had even been there on that morning. Everything was dust, everything.
Twice I have had the privilege and honor to visit what has come be known as Ground Zero since 9/11. I have driven past the Pentagon on many many occasions, and in fact saw the Phoenix rise from the ashes and rubble, like it had never happened, save for a beautiful memorial park where there is an empty seat under an individual tree for each person who lost their life. I have not had the opportunity to visit Shanksville, but I would like to one day. I should, everyone should. So brave were the souls on that plane who gave their own lives to keep pure evil from flying that plane into the White House or Capitol. Were it not for so many acts of courage on that day, so many more lives would have been lost.
And those who, without hesitation, signed up for the military after 9/11, how special they all are. They loved their country so much that they did not even hesitate to die for it is bravery beyond compare. They go and fight so we can live our lives under the flag of a free nation. Even on our worst days, America is good. I know there are many who no longer believe that, but look around. There really is still so much good in the world. I am thankful every day to call the United States my home.
God bless the souls lost on 9/11, and subsequently those fighting to make sure that history does not repeat itself. God bless the firefighters and police who worked tirelessly to bring home those who were lost, so that every family could at least find some measure of closure. They still suffer from the effects of the conditions they worked under…cancer, respiratory problems, other diseases that cause them suffering every single day. God bless them all.
And God bless the United States of America.