Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Remembered

It’s hard to believe it’s 9/11 for the 10th time.  I usually don’t tune in and watch the TV coverage—it was a day that I will never forget.  However, I suppose this year being the 10th anniversary of it happening, I decided to get up this morning and watch some of it.  Leah soon joined me and together we watched and she patted my cheeks and dried my tears.  Facebook is abuzz with where everyone was and how everyone felt, and I have thought about it all week, but don’t have enough space in a mere status update to post everything I would want to about that day.

Mike and I were fairly newly engaged and planning to attend three weddings that fall.  It was a happy and loving time.  That morning, I had to report to the office where I worked in Boston—as an itinerant teacher, typically I would be on the road 4 days a week, but not that day.  I was in my office doing something and a co-worker came in and said, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”  I thought he was joking, but then I thought back to other people flying little prop planes into things like the Kremlin and figured ok, maybe it did, but maybe it wasn’t such a big deal.

Working in an office dedicated to the blind, there was no TV that had any cable or any kind of reception.  Consequently, we had to rely only on what we could get from the radio.  That day’s volunteer receptionist flipped on WBZ and we heard about the plane and the WTC being on fire and started to think maybe there was something more to this than just a simple accident.  And just a few minutes later, the second plane hit.  We all just stood there, trying to figure out in our confusion what the hell was going on, and not being able to see it.

The woman who ran our small store there managed to find one of those handheld portable transistor-type televisions and all of us crowded around it to watch the drama unfold on about a 4 inch TV screen.  We tried using a TV screen magnifier for the supply closet, but the picture became blurry and distorted.  We moved into the conference room and held the TV up to the window, where the reception came in the best and just stood there.  There was a phone, and since the planes had left from Boston, we were all calling our loved ones as the drama unfolded.

I called Mike and was so relieved to hear his voice.  I asked him where he was and he said they were all leaving early and he was going to try to get to me.  Because I didn’t work in a T-accessible location, I told him to go home to our apartment and I would meet him there. 

Just moments later, the first tower collapsed.  I will never forget the look on my co-worker Robert’s face.  He heard the news on the radio back in his studio and came running in to join the rest of us, and just stood there, stock still with his jaw dropped open.  There was a sense that what we were seeing wasn’t really happening, and of course the reports from the Pentagon started rolling in, and suddenly there were reports that there were 50 planes in the air unaccounted for, and the combination of total fear and confusion and disbelief and grief settled into my chest with a chilling numbness that I will never, ever forget to my dying day.

The second tower collapsed, and I went home.  For some reason, I had an aerial antenna stored in our laundry room—something I had brought with me from Arkansas where a friend had given it to me. I collected Mike and we went back to my office and plugged the aerial antenna into the conference room TV and miraculously got a picture to come in by setting the whole thing in front of the window.  Our whole office came through and we all sat at the conference table and watched it together.  There were a lot of hugs, lots of crying, and just a sense of togetherness.  The word came down from on high that we should take the time to deal with this in whatever way any of us saw fit, so I decided to go home, and I took a couple of days off.

In that intervening time, my sister called and said, “Did you hear about Shannon Adams"?”  I hadn’t, but was stunned to hear that a boy I played with as a child in his grandmother’s yard and behind the Baptist church had perished in those towers.  I called my mother and her reaction was “What was she doing there?”  I said “not she, Mom, he, Shannon Adams” and her reaction was “Holy shit.”  Neither of us could speak.  Shannon was an amazing guy—he was literally friendly and nice to everyone and you would NEVER see him without a smile on his face.  It was a blow to all of us to believe he was gone—his family hadn’t heard from him at all in the aftermath, and to this day, his body has never been recovered.

When I think of those early days, the word that comes to me most is fear.  There were rumors swirling like crazy about “what was next” and what we needed to do to prepare ourselves for whatever hell was going to be unleashed on us next.  The general feeling among the people I was with was that now they had our attention and the real terror was about to begin.  I remember getting a phone call that all our paper and water supplies were going to be tainted and that we should go buy as much bottled water and toilet paper and paper towels as we could get our hands on.  For probably the only time in my life, I had a decent emergency supply kit with flashlights, water, batteries, canned goods, and more, stocked up in the sunroom of our apartment.  Being that these were pre-Facebook days, and in fact, there wasn’t much on the internet to speak of, we spent hours on the phone with family members and friends, pledging our love to each other, and made silent oaths to cherish each day as it came, since there were suddenly no guarantees that something crazy wouldn’t happen out of the blue.

The past ten years have been challenging for our country, no doubt about it.  I think the nation in many ways is far more divided than it ever was.  I have had times in the past ten years when I have gotten very, very politically active, and one of the best times of my life was going with my sister to meet Cindy Sheehan and march on Washington with her crowd. 

This week I’ve given a lot of thought to how I want to be as a person and how I wish our country was.  I think back to September 10, when there was a freedom from care and worry about security and I could have walked into the Smithsonian without a bag search, or gotten on a plane and had my husband walk right up to the gate with me.

I have concluded one thing:  I never, ever want to live in that state of fear again.  The constant fear and panic and what-if thinking was exhausting and debilitating. 

I also don’t want to contribute any more to the division.  I have a lot of opinions about the current state of affairs, how we got here, what we need to do to get out of it, but a recent interaction with a friend who has widely divergent views from mine led me to conclude “Why bother?”  There is nothing you can say to anyone who believes anything totally different than you that will make them change their minds—believe me, I’ve tried.  And it is tempting to jump on the bandwagon of those who do tend to agree with you, to form an “us versus them” mentality, but that’s not going to accomplish much either.  So from here out, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut, smile politely, perhaps on the inside think, “This guy is a real f***ing idiot!” and move on with my day.  I am going to form my own opinions, not just parrot the opinions of the popular ideologues and talking heads on any side of the equation, and my present opinion was formed by 9/11 and it was this:

What matters most is people.  And whatever we can do to make everyone’s lives better is what we should do.  And if something isn’t going to make our lives better, then we should not.

That’s what I learned from a bunch of guys flying planes into important places in the United States.  Maybe it’s not the lesson they wanted me to learn, but I’ve learned it through non-judgement, forgiveness, compassion, and love.  And for that goodness to come out of something so horrific, I think it’s a pretty good legacy for all of us, but especially for me.