It is that time of year again. We say that about holidays but not usually about things that are so somber, so laden with grief even after 11 years, but 9/11 is a day that is so significant, so life altering even for those who were not born at the time, and it is necessary and compelling to recognize the day in meaningful ways.
The most notable ceremonies are the ones that are officially held at what is known as Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, and at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These are the places where a harsh dose of a reality came to America, when the attacks woke us from our collective slumber. Before that we were all lost in some sort of dream, deep in a foggy place where we thought we were untouchable. How irrevocably did 9/11 shake us all awake with a cruel dose of painful truth: we were vulnerable, exposed, and violated. America was like any other place in the world where terrorism had reared its ugly head.
Eleven years later there are those people who still don’t get it, and there are others who choose to forget. Perhaps these are convenient methods to move on with lives, to ignore or selectively block out the thing that is a national nightmare. If this helps people move on, so be it, but they must understand that there are those of us who cannot forget. We will never forget until we close our eyes for the final time.
We lost a family member that day. Last year my sister got up the strength to read some names, including her Steve’s, at the ceremony at Ground Zero. I watched with tears in my eyes as I do every year, but this time I also felt so much pride because my little sister overcame all her fears and grief to stand tall, to read the names of others, to read Steve’s name, and she didn’t falter. This took so much courage and determination, but this had to be done and she did it.
Before Steve walked out their door on what seemed to be just another Tuesday morning, he asked to borrow $20 from my sister. He wanted to buy bagels for the guys in the firehouse. This was how they were there, brothers who cared for one another and made sure there was food on the table. That’s how families are and those men were a family. She gave him a twenty and he walked out the door into the impossibly beautiful blue sky day, disappearing into the bright sunshine. She would never see him again.
How many people have these stories? How many people knew those who died or their family members? It reaches out across time and space and affects all Americans. This was not just an attack on our physical selves but our souls. It was meant to break us, meant to make America crumble like those buildings at the World Trade Center; however, that didn’t happen. It hardened us, made us stronger and more resolved not to yield, and it changed America forever in ways some of us wish it had not.
So the year has come around again, and we have the inevitable arrival of another 11th day of September. This year it is again on a Tuesday, and it makes me remember that day and the way I went to work, the way we all our started our day. The deceptively tranquil, cloudless sky was “blue all the way to Jesus,” as a friend of mine from the South used to say. Kids kissed their parents goodbye, wives kissed husbands, friends waved goodbye as they got off the subway, and we all went on our individual paths.
Everyone likes Tuesday, mostly because it is not Monday. When people parted ways that morning, no one could fathom that it was the last time for so many. Those who entered the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or got on planes did so as part of routines, the practiced routes of their lives that didn’t make them think twice. Some rode elevators up high into that blue sky, opened e-mails, made phone calls, or had that buttered roll and coffee before the day began. Then from out of that peaceful powder blue sky came death and destruction. The horror of it never ends because this gets played over again and again in our heads. If only we think, but we know there is no “do over” in life, and that is what we live with year after year after year.
There should be no politics to 9/11, even though those who run for office tend to like to use the day as a means to their ends. We must ignore them for our purpose is not only to mourn the dead but to honor their memories. We must not allow the naysayers to get to us either. Those people who tell us “get over it” will never understand the heft of our sorrow, the depth of our grief, and it is a futile pursuit to try to make them see. As always, we should ignore these types of people and anyone (politicians or others) who tries to gain something from the day.
I recently watched 9/11: Emergency Room on TLC with my daughter who was a baby on the first 9/11. She never knew her Uncle Steve, but over the years she has heard so much about him. As we watched the show I got tears in my eyes, and she gently touched my arm to comfort me. She asked lots of questions, and when she saw the first building come down, she looked at me and said, “That’s the one Uncle Steve was in, right?” I nodded and we kept watching, and I was glad a program like this was on that I could watch with her, but as I sat there and saw the buildings crumble again, it felt like it did the first time eleven years ago. I thought, “This can’t be happening!” I still couldn’t believe it.
All these years later my family will mark 9/11 again as so many families will. There are people around the world who will also mourn with us, for what happened here profoundly affected them as well. Let us remember the names of those lost in the attacks, in those places that remain sacred to us all now. Also, let’s not forget the families who lost fathers, mothers, husbands, sons, and daughters, those who lost friends, and co-workers. All of them suffer most on this day. We know what we feel and think and there is no way to get over it because, as I have said many times before, there is no getting over it. We never will.
Photo Credits: World Trade Center-britannica.com; firefighters-ioffer.com