...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.