Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Later

It is 9/11.

Ten years ago, that would have been merely information. Now those numbers - that date - stir a wound that is barely healed, even after all this time.

I don't know if I will ever be able to reconcile the world I knew pre-9/11 and the world the way it is now. So much changed on that one morning for me personally and for our country collectively. Everyday little moments are forever different, and no matter how much joy and busyness there is in life, we all know, without thinking it really, but just knowing it, that on any given day, truly horrible things can happen. Even if the sky is blue, the sun is bright, and there are but a few clouds in the sky, we all know now that even when the day seems perfect, there's always that small chance. Because it happened.

I watched an interview of children who were around 10 at the time the attacks occurred. It was interesting to hear their perceptions, even as children, that things somehow were suddenly and irrevocably different in the world. Some shared that their parents talked with them about what had taken place, and some of their parents went about their day, trying desperately to make it seem like any other day. But even at their young age, these kids knew. They sensed from their parents and from the ache of a country that life was altered forever.

I remember the morning of 9/11 so clearly, as does everyone I know. Mark was traveling for work, I was at home getting ready to go to my job at our church, five months pregnant. I was moving slowly that day, and although I was finally out of the shower, I still had to get our two dogs fed and taken care of before I could rush off to work. I remember exactly how the furniture was arranged in our bedroom as I watched the Today show - I was sitting on my side of our bed, when Katie and Matt came on to talk about this odd situation in New York City. Although they didn't know any specifics, they went on the air with live coverage of a fire in the top portion of one of the Twin Towers, speculating about a small plane perhaps having hit the building.

I remember feeling almost instantly in my gut that there was a greater danger. I also remember wanting to believe this was a simple, freak accident, but I have to say - I knew. In my gut, I just knew. I had never even considered that the US could be attacked on our soil, and I remember very distinctly reminding myself not to make a big deal out of what I saw, but somehow that morning I had this feeling of dread that would not go away.

I watched live as the second tower was hit. I will always remember the angle of the airplane, the confusion of that split second before the tower was hit, and the sudden realization in the moments right after that life as I had known it was over. I think as a country, we all sensed that this was life altering, defining, and heart breaking. Watching that plane hit, as an American hundreds of miles away, safe in my home, I could feel an impact of my own.

I was scared. Looking back, I know it wasn't rational, but I was terrified to be home alone any longer. I was afraid for me, for this baby I was carrying, for Mark (who I couldn't get a hold of), and even for my dogs who I had to leave at home. Every ounce of me was afraid. And I just wanted to be with people.

I took off for work, watching the sky as I drove. As I pulled into the parking lot at the church I heard the radio announcer say that the Pentagon had been hit. It took the breath out of me. Watching the World Trade Centers be hit was devastating, but for some reason hearing that the Pentagon had been attacked felt terribly personal. Don't get me wrong, it was devastating to realize that people in New York had been so horribly victimized, but the thought that the military was now under attack - it brought out a new level of fear in me. I admit, I became slightly irrational with that fear - I called and called until I received word that my brother-in-law, an Army officer stationed in Germany, and my sister and their children were safe halfway across the world.

At church, the staff in our office gathered to pray. I remember there wasn't much eloquence, but they were the honest prayers of confusion and fear. We had no idea if "it" was over, or if we would continue to hear each hour of another attack somewhere else. It was there at my desk when I realized my best friend, a flight attendant, was out of town for work. Again, I panicked and remained so until I finally talked to her aunt who assured me she was safely on the ground in Atlanta. I could breathe again. And then the plane went down in Pennsylvania, and it knocked the breath out of me again.

The staff gathered in a larger conference room to watch footage on a small TV and to pray together. Someone put up a large sheet of paper on one wall where folks listed specific prayer requests as we heard about them. I remember offering to load up and bring in my big screen TV for the room. Sounds funny now, but it was all I could think to offer, and I guess I felt like if I could do something, anything, this would all somehow get better.

I don't remember much else about that day, except that I teared up when I finally heard Mark's voice. He wasn't anywhere near the danger - and fortunately he had driven on his work trip - but he was instructed to stay where he was while his company accounted for all their employees. I was terrified to go home alone, so when our friends called knowing Mark was out of town and offered their couch for the night, I immediately said yes. I went home long enough to load up the dogs and drove 20 minutes to their house to stay. We sat up and watched the footage until late that night. Finally, finally when we thought maybe it was over, we tried to get some sleep. I will never forget laying in bed that night and seeing the exhausted, devastated, but still remarkably professional face of Peter Jennings. His was the comforting voice for me that first night, and I always considered him more a friend than a newscaster from that night until his death.

I remember thinking the world would never go back to anything like "normal" again, and in a lot of ways, I was right. Of course in 8 years routines develop and we all once again become preoccupied with the details of everyday life. I will honestly say I don't think about the events of 9/11 every day. I have gone on to have that child I was pregnant with, and another son a few years later. We have moved, I have quit my job, and in a lot of ways life has returned to normal. But it is a new normal. Every day I now live with the sense, the painful understanding, that on any given day evil people can triumph, if only for a short time. I don't look at city skylines the same. I don't board airplanes with the same stirrings on my stomach. It feels dishonest now to teach my children that good overcomes evil on every battlefront every time. I know now. I know what can happen, and although it doesn't by any means rule my every day decisions, there is no way - no way - I can ever go back to pretending that truly horrible and evil things can't, and won't, happen. The new normal doesn't envelop me in fear, but it doesn't allow for the luxury total comfort either.

So much has changed in eight years. The politics of 9/11 have mostly taken over life these days. But I, like most every other American, will always remember where they were and how they felt on September 11, 2001.


Aly-Rae said...

Thank you.
I spent yesterday subconsciously avoiding the TV. Trying to NOT think about that day. As the wife of a firefighter we don't like to recall it. Sort of like whistling past the cemetery.
You see that was the day we loaded up our moving van and left the comfort of our family & friends in California and started a new life in Nashville. That was the day my husband would start a new career... as a firefighter.
But I see now that it is important to let those tears well up to the surface again. To remember how painful it was. To remember how scary it was. To remember how it bonded the American people, how church congregations exploded, the beautiful sight of millions of American flags outside every home, how Lee Greenwoods song made a comeback. To remember and cherish the moments I have with my family & friends.
I remember...

Renovation Girl said...

Ann, this was lovely. I still can't put into words my own feelings about it, but you have captured so many feelings I have/had! Everything about that day is so specific in the moments when we realized life was changing, but the hours after that? A blur. Wedding plans to finish (I got married 11 days later), guests to worry over (anyone who was flying was called and told not to come-they did anyways and surprised us!), students to teach and comfort. I am thankful that I was teaching in a Christian school so that we could gather and pray. I continued teaching that day, to maintain some sense of normalcy amidst the intense fear, but it all was so awkward. Getting home, I just remember cowering with every plane sound (I lived in the city then and although all air space was shut down that day, the military was patrolling the skies) and watching television until my eyes crossed (and then I watched some more). How different life is now for all of us...thank you for posting this beautiful reflection.