September 11, 2001. Even after 20 years – we’re still not getting over it. And with good reason. This date – like December 7, 1941 – will indeed live on in infamy. On September 11, 2001, there was an unprovoked attack on American soil, killing 2,977 innocent people and 19 terrorist hijackers on the four planes that they took over and flew into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and ultimately a field in Pennsylvania. Now, so many years later, it is a wound that never heals, causing a heart that remains forever broken.
People can move on as my sister did after she lost her partner and best friend Steve – a fire lieutenant who died when the South Tower came down – but moving on is not getting over it. Getting over it implies that it’s over, and it will never be over. 2,977 people didn’t go home that day, and that shattered and altered lives irrevocably.
There was be a return to a more regular ceremony today at Ground Zero in Manhattan where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood magnificently against the city skyline. This included the reading of the names of all those lost, which was done virtually last year. Every year I watch family members reading the victims’ names, waiting for Steve’s name to be said and wishing that it would not be and that he was with my sister instead, but every year his name is said, and I still cry.
20 years ago, my sister was devastated by Steve’s loss, but only months later when she got emotional one time, someone said. “Get over it!” to her. The sheer nerve, the arrogance, and the ignorance this person displayed was appalling. But to say it now and think it is okay because so much time has passed is still inappropriate. The loss of a friend or loved one is like the loss of a limb. Getting over it is physically and emotionally difficult if not impossible.
There were ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA, where United Flight 93 crashed because the passengers, who learned of the attacks on Washington and New York, revolted against the hijackers and brought down the plane. These three spaces are sacred sites where many unrecovered bodies became one with the detritus of the buildings or the field. It is only proper to honor the lost, especially the first responders who bravely went into the buildings in New York while everyone was coming out.
Some people argue that this should be the last year of ceremonies. They believe we should look ahead and not behind, and that we are talking about something that many people now alive but born since 2001 do not have a memory of. But that is exactly the reason why the ceremony has to be repeated every year.
We who lived through the attacks and lost people will never forget that day, but it is extremely important that we be active witnesses of history and tell younger people what that day was like. There were fears of more attacks, people were suffering from shock, and there was a mind-numbing sense that the world would never be the same.
All these years later things are not the same. They never can be. Yes, glistening and beautiful new buildings went up at Ground Zero, but the 9/11 Memorial and Museum – including the North and South Tower Memorial Pools surrounded by bronze parapets upon which the names of the victims who died in each tower are inscribed – makes it hard not to remember what happened. The city has changed, its people have changed, and there’s no going back to the innocence we experienced on 9/10/2001. We can never be that city again.
Last weekend our family gathered to celebrate Steve. We all wore memorial shirts to mark the 20th anniversary, and we made toasts to him. We had some of his favorite food and drink, we shared stories about him, and one of his best friends even played old answering machine messages from him. For a moment, hearing his voice made me feel like we were sitting in my house again staring at the fireplace and talking.
For my kids, who were too young to have known him, the gathering was a great way to learn more about the man about whom they have been hearing stories their whole lives. Our family includes a baby born this year, so we will keep making an effort to keep his memory alive for generations to come.
Whether you knew someone who died that day or not, if you remember that day you know the horror and pain it caused – that it still causes – and the wound it left that will not heal. As long as we live, this day will be marked, but we have to make sure that it will always be a day for people to honor those lost or we do a disservice to them.
Eighty years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, fewer and fewer people are alive who remember that dark day in history, and each year I hear less about it. That’s why every effort has to be made to keep the annual commemoration of 9/11 as a reminder of that horrific day. We need to guarantee the legacy of those lost, so that when all of us who remember that day are gone, future generations will continue to mark it significantly forevermore.