Wednesday, September 10, 2008

So, Tomorrow is September 11...

...and I forgot.

6 years, 364 days and 10 hours ago, I was sitting at my computer in a small town in Illinois, looking in disbelief at video of the smoldering first tower and not really yet entertaining the possibility that someone I knew had ceased to exist. She wasn't a close friend, just someone I knew from a common activity, part of a small group I exchanged emails with. The emails were usually light, sometimes snarky, almost always funny. The last email I'd received from her, though, had been different. Although young, she was a very accomplished professional woman. In that last email, just a day or two before, she'd mentioned that she was considering leaving her job to have a child.

So, on the morning of September 11, when I dashed off an email that said nothing more than, "Are you okay? Please respond so we know you're safe", I really hadn't absorbed the possibility that she might not be.

That seems insane in retrospect, given the images we were seeing, but it was somehow too much to take in. Too much to process on the scale that it was happening, and too much to narrow to a single flesh and blood woman halfway across the country from me.

Of course, as the hours and then days wore on, reality dawned...but it dawned slowly.

My daughter was five, and in afternoon kindergarten. What I remember most clearly from that day is her speaking into her yellow plastic toy phone, saying to some imaginary person on the other end, "I'm not sure if I'm going to school. There seem to be bombs everywhere." I turned off the television, but apparently it didn't help: what my daughter thinks she remembers from that day is me sitting on the bathroom floor crying. But that didn't happen that day. It happened two days later when the quick "are you okay?" email I'd dashed off bounced back with "permanant fatal errors". It's all blended in her mind, as one event, and perhaps it should be. It was a strange time when the normal parameters of life seemed not to apply.

But tonight was Parent Night at my daughter's school, and her Social Studies teacher mentioned that they'd be talking about 9/11 tomorrow, and my blood ran colder than it has on any of the years when I've been conscious of the date...because I forgot.

That's what we do, as humans. We move on. It's healthy, in a way, but in another way we lose something when we do. We've lost the spirit of togetherness, of being human together, of things like money and power and having the right job or the right car or whose kid made the cheerleading squad just NOT MEANING ANYTHING. Now, in the shadow of the upcoming Presidential election, we're as divided as we've ever been. The phrase "how is that my problem?" appears in a lot of discussions about economic crises and medical coverage and a hundred other issues that impact the day-to-day lives of people around us. We've forgotten.

And that is, perhaps, the biggest tragedy of 9/11. Because in the wake of disaster, it was very clear to all of us how it was our problem, how we were all in it together and every lost or injured or widowed or orphaned person was one of us. If we've lost that, we've let go of the one good, human thing that came out of that day and chosen to remain in the ruins.


betty said...

I'm thankful I didn't lose anyone. But I will always remember guarding a building in fear. Actual fear. As the compound I worked on emptied and a few of us remained and watched the skies. Some sat inside waiting for their husbands or families to call them back. Hoping they didn't go to work that day hoping they were stuck in traffic. Miracle after miracle proceeded. Some did get stuck in traffic, some just didn't get to work on time for various reason that became blessings.

Nobody will ever forget that day. I can still remember arguing with my husband before we got to work. I remember the drive home that night at 11pm when at a stop light we couldn't believe on such a day we could have even argued. I remember coming home exhausted and finally crying. I couldn't even watch the news. I've never felt so vulnerable.

After reading your post, I'm thankful my children were not born yet. I'm thankful that they didn't have to think about what had happened on that day.

RockStories said...

Betty, I like the way you said, "Actual fear." For many Americans, that day was probably a first experience with real, visceral fear. It makes me think of all of the mothers in other parts of the world who live with that fear all day, every day.

Shirley said...

That day will forever remain in my mind. I once wrote in a journal about Princess Dianah "Today will probably be the day my kids ask where I was when..." I was ok with knowing that the moment would come. Since 9/11 I pray that the day they write that paper doesn't come.

mtyler77 said...

What a beautifully written post. I was in Hawaii with my (now) husband--and it was so surreal waking up (5 hours later than the events had occurred) and to learn about them so long after the fact. We were, of course, stuck in Hawaii--but our vacation changed dramatically after the attacks. It had been an exuberant, falling madly in love vacation before 9/11 and after, was one that was so subdued; we both felt so disconnected from everone we knew, being so far away and not knowing when we might be able to get back home.

I knew two people who lost their lives on that terrible day. One was a woman I had gone to college with, who died in the towers. The other was the brother of one of my best friends, who died on flight 93

The death of my friend Anna haunted me the most--and still does when I think of it. Remembering seeing the people jumping out the windows was terrible--I wondered what type of hell must be in that building to make jumping the better choice. I hope my friend Anna didn't suffer in her death.

Bless the victims and bless us all. Each of us who remembers, will *never forget."

Great post, Tiffany--


Anonymous said...

I was luckier that week. I only got positive news back.

The forgetting and divisions you mention are partly human nature, I believe, but I lay a great deal of responsibility at the feet of President Bush, who tenure in office since then has amounted to a massive failure in leadership and missed opportunities in this respect.

I'm sorry to sound so partisan, but that is what I've got out of the administration's response to 9/11 for seven years now. In this case, politics and the personal have blended together for me.

RockStories said...

@Mark: It seems to me that we all have to realize that there is no separation of "politics" and life. It does us no good to lament the challenges that we or our neighbors and countrymen face if we fail to connect the dots and understand the ways in which our leadership can impact those issues--for better or worse.

G8rBryan said...

Wonderful post, and beautifully written.