Who can forget where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news? The news of September 11, 2001 will remain in my memory, and the memory of most Americans old enough to understand that day for the rest of our lives. An event like 9/11 etches an indelible scar on the mind. A memory that can’t be forgotten. A memory that shouldn’t be forgotten.
9/11 means different things to different people. Some people view it as a religious statement. Others view it as a political statement. Sadly, others find justification in the tragedy. Many see it as America’s loss of innocence or America’s wakeup call. As for me, my memory has always focused on those that were lost that day. With each anniversary, I continue to dwell on the innocent victims of that day, just as I did as I watched the events unfold on TV.
On September 11, 2001, I was in Payson, AZ at my uncle’s home. My mother and father were with us and we were all scheduled to go to the Grand Canyon that day for a few days. My uncle was up before me that morning and I was taking advantage of the time change and catching a few extra winks. My uncle had the TV on as he made his breakfast when he suddenly turned up the volume on the TV. That woke me up, and I could tell pretty quickly that something was wrong. I got dressed and walked out to the family room just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower. I was glued to the TV and watched in horror as the events unfolded. Even after the second tower fell, I couldn’t walk away from the the broadcast. I commented to my uncle that I never thought I would live to see the day this country was attacked. How naive.
Growing up in suburban America in the 60’s and 70’s, you don’t get a sense of what is going on in the world outside our borders. It never occurred to me that people in other countries, or people of different backgrounds could hate this country so much as to kill themselves and innocent people in the process. Sure, there were signs all over the world back then. There was the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut, the events in Somalia, the bombings in Africa. But none of this struck home for me. How incredibly naive and ignorant.
So while 9/11 was an awakening for me with regards to world issues, I continue to be haunted by thoughts of the victims of that day. I tried to read news articles of the event and relate to the personal stories that were aired and printed in the days after the tragedy. But it was very difficult. It would be months before I could sit through an entire article that described the heroes and victims of the day. With each article, I found myself putting myself in their shoes. What would I have done? Would I have been scared? Who would I have called to say goodbye? Would I have risked my life to save another? Would I have been a jumper? Or would I have pushed past others to be the first one down the stairs.
And what of the people that had no chance? Those that kissed their families goodbye and left for work that morning, only to have their life extinguished without ever knowing why. Did they know what was going on before the flames consumed them? Before the building collapsed on them? And how about the passengers and crew on the 4 airplanes? What went through their minds as they began to understand what was going on? Those on the flight that crashed in to the field in Pennsylvania knew what had happened to the other flights. But what about those on the first 3 flights? Did they know they were going to die?
And finally, the heroes of 9/11. The public servants from NYPD, NYFD and the Port Authority. As they rushed into the buildings to save others, did they know it was a futile effort? How did they find the courage to climb those stairs, working against the flow of humanity, knowing that they were going into a situation so dangerous that they likely would not come back out. Could I have done that? Do I possess the character and strength to put my own fears aside and run into a burning building? 9/11 is an extreme example of heroism. People do this every day in this country. They rescue people stranded in swollen rivers, or in burning buildings, or they pull victims from a burning car without regard to their own safety. Amazing.
To this day I remain haunted by these thoughts and the images from that day. I fully expect that on my last 9/11 in this world, I will still remember the events as if they happened yesterday. Time does not heal this wound. I cannot forget. I shouldn’t forget. I won’t forget.
What do you remember from that day?