Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11

9/11/01 for those of us who lived through it, is one of those dates we will always remember.  It will stay with us like the day President Kennedy was assassinated for those in my age range.  For my parents' generation it was the day Pearl Harbor was attacked and WWII began for the US.

We can remember where we were when the first plane hit the World Trade Center and where we were when each tower disintegrated into a sixteen story pile of rubble in lower Manhattan.

Even if we had no ties to anyone involved in the horrendous attacks or to NYC, we will always remember.

Twelve years ago today I was at work in Austin, TX in a large office complex, employed by a state agency.  One of my coworkers had been down in the cafeteria to bring back some breakfast and saw the first plane crash on the television in the dining area.  He came back and told us what he had seen.  He immediately started streaming video on his computer to watch the events.  All day long other staff members gathered in his cubicle watching it all unfold in real time.

I didn't.  I didn't want to see it.  Instead I listened to NPR and followed the events while I tried to work on writing procurement documents.  I was only partly dedicated to finishing my tasks.  Actually, I didn't want to see what I thought to be inevitable.  In other words, I didn't want to watch the trapped people die in real time.  I knew I would see it eventually on television replays.  I would watch it in the privacy of my own home with my little shih tzu pups for company, as if that would shield me from the horror of it all.

I was no stranger to man's inhumanity to man.  My early career in social work had shown me firsthand the sadistic handiwork of some so-called humans, as they starved their children, or beat their elderly parents and left them to live in their own waste.

I finally had enough of being a witness to unimaginable cruelty and sought an office job within the government system, so I didn't have to bear witness again.  I wasn't going to forget what I had seen - still haven't to this day.  Is it any wonder I didn't want to watch the towers come down when it happened?

As it was I talked with some of the other employees off and on during the day.  One woman, I remember, who had a son in the military, was loudly advocating that we should "nuke 'em all."  In retrospect that's an appalling statement, but at the time, I was too numb to feel.

I don't remember the trip home that afternoon.  There had been talk that our offices should be closed.  We had no idea if the attack was confined to New York and DC or if it would spread to other offices in other cities.  Some of our agency offices in downtown Austin were closed and the employees sent home early.  But those were the government buildings around the state capital.  We were located close to our Medicaid contractor, in an office park without even a sign that any government agency was housed there.

By the time I got home, it was all over - the towers had long since come down.  The hotel had come down later that afternoon.  And we had all heard about Flight 93.

I saw it all replayed on television that night, unable to look away.  I remember I wept watching it.  My little pups consoled me as best they could.  Honestly, I was glad I had them with me, something life affirming as I watched the stark images onscreen.

I remember it was several days before network television started broadcasting anything other than news from ground zero and the Pentagon.  NPR did not broadcast any of their musical shows, either, sticking to a news format with somber music accompanying the breaks.

The one thing I remember most is how quiet it was with no planes flying.  There were no contrails to mar the blue wide open sky of Texas.  For days afterward, we lived on the events of 9/11.  From the search and rescue that turned into recovery at ground zero and the Pentagon to that field outside Shanksville, PA, we moved through our daily lives, automatons in varying states of shock.

The sight of people putting up pictures of their missing loved ones in NYC; the fence in Shanksville that was decorated in memorial bit by bit; the film of the victims jumping from the upper stories of the WTC; the volunteers who rushed in to help, many with their valiant service dogs; the restaurants in lower Manhattan who stayed open to feed the rescue crews and bring them water; the way each recovered firefighter or police officer was accorded an honor guard as his or her body was carried from the rubble; the face of Todd Beamer's widow at the President's speech before congress and the nation as we heard for the first time that the last thing she heard from her husband was him saying to his fellow passengers "let's roll" as they went to storm the cockpit and take back the plane.  These are the things that stand out in my mind.

My memories are filled with such incredible bravery as well as such horrendous cruelty I will never forget that day.  How could I?

Each year I watch some of the programs leading up to the anniversary.  My dad asked me why I would subject myself to that sadness.  I told him I feel it is our duty to always remember.

The most surprising thing of those events and the aftermath to me was so many politicians and pundits spoke about how "shocking" it was to have the attack happen on our soil.  I suppose it was, but I never thought we were invulnerable.  I grew up during the cold war, learning how to "duck and cover" - constantly being reminded that the enemy had ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) that could reach us in a matter of minutes with their nuclear warheads in place.

A lot has changed in the past twelve years.  My mother died in 2003.  I retired in 2010 and moved across the country to look after my elderly father.  One of those little puppies from twelve years ago died last January.  Life is ever changing.

Yet this year on 9/11 I stop and remember that day in 2001 and pay homage to the brave men and women who marked that day in our collective memory.

I will continue to honor the victims and those who rushed to help every 9/11 for the rest of my life.  It is the least I can do.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, was at work, but I worked for a brokerage and we weren't allowed outside access to the internet, so when my son called with the appalling news that a plane had flown into the World Trade center, I was caught as unprepared and shocked as anyone. I turned on my little radio with it's iffy reception and listened in stunned disbelief as the commentators told what little they knew or understood. My daughter, then working in Chicago called next to tell me the second plane had crashed into the second tower. Shortly after that the Stock Market closed and business was at a total standstill. Edward Jones then began streaming live coverage of the disaster over our system. With nothing else to do, I did watch the sickening sight of people jumping, of firemen and police responding and to the collapse of the towers - over and over and over. As Sharon says, there are some days that stand out in our memory like no other. I was in Trigonometry class when Kennedy was shot and I'll never forget the shocked silence of the school halls when we were dismissed early and sent home. I stood in the bright Florida sunshine when my youngest daughter called to tell me her baby had been hit on the head and air medivacced to the hospital and I clearly remember crying out NOT AGAIN to the unresponsive blue sky. I'd lost another grandson just 7 years earlier and it just didn't seem possible. There are dozens of happy memories in my head, mental images of love and laughter, but these moments of stunned, shocked, disbelieving horror stand out sharply. Reminders of how quickly the blessings of our lives can be taken away. Like the sharp pain of having an adhesive bandage ripped away from an injury, the shock of losing our innocence and faith so abruptly with so little warning hurts like hell. And it goes on hurting long after the initial event.

    Today I flew my flag in memory of all who were lost. For the families left behind. For the soldiers who have died in the struggle to overcome this menace since and for their families. For the families still waiting for soldiers to return home safely. For the firemen and police and rescue workers who struggled in the aftermath and still struggle with illnesses all these years later. And I pray that somehow, we can find a way to peace.