I'm the daughter of a history teacher. Dad had to give up teaching when he was a bit younger than I am now, and he suffered a stroke. Before that, he was articulate and persuasive. He saw history not as dull dates and events, but as the stories of people's lives. When you tell history from that perspective, I maintain that no one can remain indifferent. Washington and Jefferson put their pants on one leg at a time, and being able to think of them in those terms made everything they did both more human, and more awe-inspiring.
So today, the anniversary of arguably the most profound national event of my lifetime, it occurs to me that the true measure of 9/11 is not the massive event itself, but the myriad of personal stories and memories of that day. And being the historian's daughter, I wanted to get mine in writing too.
The morning of September 11, 2001, was beautiful. Many people have said that it was the kind of day that made you glad to be alive, and so it was. At that time, I was working part-time in a Behavioral Health Unit, and as I was driving to work, I was listening to the Imus in the Morning program. As I began to pull into the parking lot, there was a sudden report of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York City. At first, it was thought to be private plane. Bizarre, I thought, but who knows. A pilot might have had a heart attack, be suicidal...it would certainly be interesting to see what played out. I had no idea. None of us did. I turned off my engine, but left the radio on while I put on some lipstick before heading up the stairs to work. That split moment of time made all the difference, because Warner Wolf, an Imus regular, called in. He told Don that he'd seen the plane go by his apartment window, and it was no small aircraft, but a passenger plane, huge, and impossibly loud. He said from what he saw, it was no accident.
That changed everything. I turned off the radio, and bolted inside, going in an employee entrance, glad that I could because I didn't want to frighten any patients. One of the counselors in the practice, Peter, had a small television in his office, and I made a beeline there. He wasn't with anyone, and I told him to turn on his TV, quick, as I started to fill him in. Soon everyone not in a session was watching, having no idea just how much more surreal this day would become. We saw the second plane hit, and the towers crumble, one after the other, like eggshells. We saw the horror on the New Yorker's faces echoed on our own. And the rumors began of planes heading for Camp David, just to our north. One counselor got panicky...her child attended school near there, and she had to leave. No one blamed her. Then the word of Pentagon attack, just 60 miles from us. We all knew people there, or families that had members working there. It was all too much to take in. No one could turn away.
After we got the TV on, and saw the first tower burning, I called my husband. He was doing pro bono photography work for our local United Way's Day of Caring. He ended up being the one to break the news to all those people. After the second plane hit, I heard that one of them was believed to be from American Airlines. My ex flies for them, and I was suddenly terrified that he had been on that plane. Not a good relationship, ours, but still, he is the father of my children. I called his home, and kept getting a busy signal, but finally got his then-wife on the phone. He had gotten home late the night before, and was fine. I thanked God.
I left around lunch time, my shift being up, and went to our studio, where the DH waited for me. We held each other, and we cried. We couldn't turn off the radio; we had to constantly know what was happening. For days we all watched as the victims of the attacks, and the heroes who tried to save them were brought out of the rubble. And we cried. We began to hear those individual stories, the near-misses who stopped for a cup of coffee, or a band-aid, and missed being inside the tower. The persons who missed those flights, and the ones who made them. The phone calls, full of fear, resignation, and ultimately, messages of love for those who'd be left behind. And the incredible bravery of those who refused to let their flight be the instrument of evil. We all questioned our inner hearts, wondering what we would have done, who we'd have called, what we would have said. And we cried.
I remember, days after 9/11 as I sobbed yet again, saying to my DH that I wondered how I still could have so many tears left in me...that surely I should have cried them all out by now. And on every anniversary, as I watch ceremonies of remembrance, I think this will be the year that I'll finally be done grieving. I won't need to cry.
As this morning, and the writing of this post prove to me, this is not that year. Not yet.