Sunday, September 11, 2016

A day to never forget

This the first September 11 since 2001 that I didn't have a newspaper column to share my thoughts about the day. I'm used to writing them down (or more often typing them on a screen) and I figured this year should be no different even if my thoughts are going in a different space and no one really reads them but me.

Each year at this time of year there's been a flood of emotions and I'd gather those thoughts and share them. In 2001 I wrote several times about the terrible events that changed the country and everyone in it. I was far from New York or the Pentagon or the field where Flight 93 landed, but as an American it affected me deeply.

I happened to be 8 months pregnant on September 11, 2001, so emotions were in high gear already. I was married to a part-time firefighter who had tested to become a full-time career firefighter and was just waiting for a slot to open up for him.

My seven-year-old was at school the morning that the terrorist attacks occurred so he wasn't at home as we watched the scene unfold live on the t.v. screen. I didn't have the television on much when he was around, but of course he was taking in all he heard and saw. I took him to a community vigil not long after 9/11 at the football field of the local high school. His dad and his fellow firefighters were all in their dress blues on the field for the event. I remember my son setting up chairs and flags in the back yard a couple times after that and asking the neighbors to come over for a 9/11 memorial service.

I should have been at work that day, but was feeling sore and fatigued and called in that morning to let them know I was taking a sick day. I was in the shower when my husband stuck his head in the door and said my sister just called and said the World Trade Center had been struck by a plane. We just watched in disbelief without words as smoke poured out of the towers. Then we watched the first one collapse. Finally my husband said something. "Do you know how many firefighters just died?'

I remember that we had our soon-to-be-born son's first name selected but the middle name was still being discussed. One of the names in consideration was Christian. When I was watching a memorial on television at Yankee Stadium at home alone, I saw a sign in the crowd of a missing firefighter with the name Christian written under it. At that moment I moved the named Christian to the top of the list.

My son was born on October 11. I was in the labor room watching the president speak and ask for a moment of silence that morning in remembrance exactly one month later. It was a somber time for the country, but a time of happiness for me. I found out my friend delivered in a room in the same hospital just down the hall within a couple hours of my son's birth. She named her little girl Liberty. They call her Libby.

I remember writing a front page story months later about a group of local firefighters who traveled to New York to visit a fire station and donate over $45,000 raised to go to the NYPD widow's and children's fund. They described how work was still being done at Ground Zero as they were there six months later and that when they'd recover a body (or part of one) all work would stop and they'd cover the victim with an American flag and carry them out.

I remember interviewing Lee Greenwood about an upcoming concert in the region a few months after 9/11 and him talking about feeding rescue workers at Ground Zero alongside Olivia Newton-John and Brooke Shields and then singing a spontaneous a cappella version of "God Bless the USA" at Ground Zero.

For at least that first year after, it seemed to be always present. In conversations everywhere. On television. Everyone was bursting with patriotic pride while still respecting the underlying somber mood as we began to realize a new normal.

I was so far removed from the situations. I had no business feeling such grief. But I felt grief for all who had lost so much. I felt an American grief for those I didn't know but who shared that common bond of living in a country that is free and on every day before it had felt so safe.

Each year I kind of throw myself back into that mindset. I want to go back to that place where everyone seemed to be in it together. Everyone seemed to be grieving together for America. I look for footage of that day on television and I watch interviews of heroes who were there or people who lost loved ones. I soak myself in it. I read all I can about it. I watch everything I can find on it. I get annoyed at the lack of coverage on most channels and the commercial breaks. I look for it to be nonstop like it was when it happened. Many years I've gone to memorial ceremonies in different communities. I want to be around those who are also remembering. I want to soak it in again. I cry. I make myself feel it all over again. And I want the days to follow to be filled with flags and good will and charity and coming together. I almost feel like time should stop again like it did then with no planes in the sky, no baseball or football games, no bustling stock exchange, but by the morning fn September 12 it has fizzled. Things are back again and I wish we remembered for more than a day.

Some feel like that's not a good thing. After so many years, it's time to move on, I've heard. For those who lived through it first hand, it's not a once a year, one day remembrance. It's something that is a constant in their mind and heart. For those who lost, it leaves a void that is there every single day. It fades a little. It lessens slightly as time passes, I would guess. But it never leaves. I feel like it shouldn't leave me. It shouldn't leave the rest of America. We need to keep hearing those stories. Keep seeing those images. Keep feeling it. Keep hurting for all those who lost so much. Some would call that dwelling. I call it remembering.




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