Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later ...

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since That Horrible Day.  It was one of those defining moments ... for individuals, for families, for communities, for companies, and for our nation. Every one who was old enough to remember it, remembers exactly where they were, exactly what they were doing, and exactly what they felt. I feel so blessed that I did not know anyone who perished on That Horrible Day, but I cannot hear the stories of the survivors and the surviving families without feeling all of that emotion.

My "where were you" story is not very exciting. I woke up around 6:30 a.m. PST like I did every day. I turned on the morning news like I did every day. I got up to go to the bathroom like I did every day. I got in the shower like I did every day.  When I dried off and then walked into my bedroom to select my clothes for the day, I heard the commentator say one of the towers of the World Trade Center was on fire. I looked up at the television, and I could see the smoke pouring out of the building. I remember thinking that it must have been a bomb because it looked like an entire corner had been blown up.  And then I heard them say that a plane had crashed into the building. I wondered what happened ... did the pilot have a heart attack? did the plane have mechanical problems? what on earth was a plane doing so close to the skyscrapers in New York? I had no idea, as I stood there watching the billowing smoke, of the horror the news reporters were about to explain.

I started to go about my business, when I heard one of the commentators say officials were reporting that someone had intentionally crashed into the building.  What? Why would someone do that?  I stopped to listen more. As I heard them giving minute by minute updates, it happened. The second plane appeared from behind the buildings, banked a turn, and then crashed into the other tower. I could not believe my eyes. I cried out "Oh my God." I stood there with my mouth hanging open, riveted to the TV. I can't remember if I called anyone. I can't remember if my husband was there. It was like everything around me turned fuzzy and my entire focus was on that TV. I could not pull myself away. Eventually I did, and I went to work.

By the time I got to the office, more information had been revealed. A plane crashed into the Pentagon. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Terrorists.  I remember everyone talking about how many other planes there might be.  I live in Sacramento ... was San Francisco a target? What about Los Angeles? Were we in danger? Were we going to be hearing about plane crashes all day? Who would do this?  I was standing in my supervisor's office when a coworker came in and said the towers had collapsed. "Imploded" was the word she used.  She was late to work because her brother was an airline pilot who flew the same route as Flight 93 and she had waited until she heard whether he was the pilot or not. We left my supervisor's office and wandered over to her desk. We sat, and we cried small, subtle tears, and she shared how relieved she was that her brother was not the pilot. I went back to my office, shut my door, put the "do not disturb" on my phone, and turned on a radio. I sobbed. I don't remember anything else about the day.  Literally, I do not remember anything else.

That Christmas it seemed like everyone talked about That Horrible Day in their holiday greetings. People were still missing. People were still mourning.  Everyone was afraid. I remember reading a poignant letter from a childhood friend who described how she and her then 4-year old son spent much of That Horrible Day re-gluing broken pieces onto a cherished treasure box, and she felt like that was what we were going to have to do as a nation ... and though we could pick up the pieces of what was once cherished, and glue it back together, what we rebuilt would never be the same as the original.  I think everyone knew that we as a nation would never be the same and that the canvas of the world was forever altered.

That New Year's Eve I learned I was pregnant with Sweetie. His original due date was September 11, 2002. I agonized over whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I liked the idea of a new life, a new beginning, and a happy occasion occurring to soften the pain we would all feel when we reached the first anniversary of That Horrible Day.  On the other hand, I did not like the idea of my child's birthday always being overshadowed by what we all knew would be yearly memorials, tributes, and relived memories of That Horrible Day.  (BTW - Sweetie wasn't born on September 11.)

I have been so disheartened by the delay in getting the people who did this. It seemed like all of our intelligence information led to dead ends, while Osama bin Laden smugly released videos, continued to make threats, continued to recruit and train, and was allowed to go on with his life when almost 3,000 innocent Americans had their lives taken away without justification, and thousands of families were forever changes. And in the meantime, we have had our rights limited in the name of national security; the government can invade our privacy, confiscate our property, monitor our spending, seach our bodies ... one of the things that makes this country so great - freedom - was hurt because of That Horrible Day. And because of That Horrible Day, my children were born in a time of war, and have not taken a single breath during peace time.   I pray every day that they will know a time of peace. 

Much like That Horrible Day, the day we learned that Osama bin Laden had finally been captured and killed started like any other day. That evening I had the news on as I was making dinner for my children, just as I do almost every day.  I heard the alert of a special news report and looked up from the stove.  The anchor announced Special Forces had successfully completed a covert mission and Osama bin Laden was dead.  I confess that, even though I know it was not the appropriate spiritual reaction to have, I cried tears of joy. I stood in my living room, and much like That Horrible Day, I sobbed.  Sweetie asked me why I was crying, and I took that opportunity to tell my children - for the first time - about That Horrible Day. They had a lot of questions I could not answer: why don't other countries like us? why would someone want to hurt us? how could someone be so evil?

I have been dreading today since last weekend. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to contain the horrible feelings. I knew I would have to try to explain things to my children, even though I don't understand them myself. I awoke before dawn and turned on the TV.  I watched the ceremonies live on the east coast. I wept when the Navy Sea Chanters sang Amazing Grace. I wept again when the boys' choir sang America the Beautiful. I wept as family members shared their stories. I wept and wept and wept.

As I write this and send it off to the cyber universe, I am emotionally spent.  But I am so grateful for the blessings in my life. I reaffirmed my decision to live my life to the fullest every day, to love my children with all of my heart every day, and to be certain I tell the people in my life that I love them.

We will never forget.

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