Incredible. For the first time in 14 years I didn’t IMMEDIATELY think of 9/11/01 when I realized tomorrow’s date. Of course, SHORTLY LATER I did. I do think my request may still be of value.
Read all about Jaye’s Quilt in her “Quilts for 911 (2001)” post
I wasn’t sure I would write a post about September 11, 2001 and now, as I am doing so, I wonder if I’ll ever hit publish. We’ll see, sometimes posts are just for ourselves. I am certain I can never understand what it must have been like for anyone closer to the events. I was lucky. I could have been there but I wasn’t. I did not lose a close friend or family member but as an American I was affected and my remembrance is part of the story.
On that day I was living in Hastings on Hudson, just 30 minutes north of New York City, nestled about half way between the George Washington and Tapanzee Bridges. I had the day off and was planning a trek across the Tapanzee to visit my friend Marsha. We were planning to sit by her pool and lament the end of summer on the perfect September day.
It really was a perfect day. Blue skies, low humidity. warm but not oppressively hot, completely picturesque. I was puttering around my apartment when Marsha called. I assumed some logistics regarding our day when all I heard was, “Turn on your television! It is happening now! I can’t believe it!”
I turned on my television to see a plane firmly lodged in one of the World Trade Towers. I don’t know which one it was, I would learn later that it was American Flight 11 in the North Tower. The people reporting the story don’t know what plane it is either. They were wondering if a commuter jet had crashed or if this was some kind of pilot suicide, the thought of terrorism hadn’t yet entered anyone’s mind. Surely this was just some sort of sad freak accident.
A few minutes of errant speculation go by and then we see another plane flying toward the towers! Seconds later another plane crashes into the second tower. We learn later that this is United flight 175. Discussions on the news coverage are primarily concerned with how the occupants of the towers are going to get out.
Back at home, Jason, my boyfriend at the time who had been out conducting his dry cleaning deliveries comes home, shouting up the stairs, “Did you hear? Something terrible is happening.” It would not have been normal for me to have the television on, I rarely if ever watched anything in the morning so it was possible that I didn’t already know.
Carrying a case of bottled water up the stairs, Jason said, “I just heard they closed the bridges and no one is supposed to go into New York. I told Joe (our friend who lived in NYC but was up in Westchester for work that day) he could crash here, I hope that is OK.”
“Of course.” is my reply as Jason and I sit on the couch, watching the television coverage in frozen silence as both towers fell to the ground.
Joe arrived a little while later, carrying a case of beer. It always struck me as funny how two people could have two distinct reactions to such an event. Jason was purely in survival mode and Joe instead found the need for emotional escape, opening and drinking a few beers in rapid succession.
We sat together, not saying very much. All of us wondering, now that we were hearing that other hijackings had taken place, if everything we knew about our lives and our country was going to change.
I have a vague recollection that later we joined our neighbors gathering in the street. But everything else from that day escapes me. I spoke with a couple of friends who I was very close to at that time, wondering if their recollection would help me to piece together the events of that day but their recollections are equally fuzzy. Cary remembers attending Akido that evening and found the practice filled with great discipline. No talking, true gratitude to see each other and shared silence.
We all seem to have some moments of clarity about the day, but even amidst all that tragedy our memories retreat in normal form and don’t allow for specific recollections. I do remember in the days that followed that people were extra nice to each other. Complete strangers were willing to help and or join conversations and stay a little bit longer then normal at train stops, street corners and local bar/restaurant hangouts.
Jason belonged to a boat club right on the edge of the Hudson River so we went to look along the water in the direction of the city and it was so jarring to see the Statue of Liberty without her two sentinels that previously shared the skyline. We learned that a boat club member watched all the events of that day perched in his kayak which was moored next to the Palisade Cliffs on the New Jersey side of the river.
Everyday we heard of miracles, “I was supposed to be there that day but I overslept.” and tragedies, a neighbor’s cousin was lost. I was scheduled to be in the World Trade Center later that week because I was taking a course with Landmark Education which housed their classrooms and offices on the Fifteenth Floor of Tower One. Because the courses were conducted primarily during the evening most of the staff was not in the building and those that were, were able to get out of the building with the help of the fire and rescue personnel.
In the weeks that followed we all seemed to be in a hurry “to get back to normal” but “911 stories” continued to be a part of our days. We considered ourselves lucky, we all knew people who had it worse then we did. Parents who weren’t coming home. Groomsmen who weren’t going to make it to their wedding. A whole cadre of sadness that just wasn’t ending.
A couple of weeks later, my friend Tamara and I attended a sweat lodge as part of our own healing process. Several at the lodge had lost a close friend but Heather, the woman leading our lodge, was the one who had the most important message for me that day. She had been in the company of a Native American Elder earlier in the week and he had told her something that has stayed with me since.
The Elder said the thing that would keep the tragedy alive was the fact that we keep referring to September 11th in the present tense. Every time we say 911 or September 11 without including the date 2001, it continues to work on our psyche as a current event. He said that unless we can collectively place the event firmly in the past it will continue to haunt our todays and true healing would not be possible.
This is where my request comes in. It has been more than ten years and everything we have learned or not learned about being American, or human as result of this event remains frighteningly potently close. A bit like a wound that doesn’t heal. I think it is time for this to change.
We can be moved. We can be changed. We can be vigilant. We can be sad. We can be so many things in remembrance of that horrible day but I don’t think we should be held hostage by it. I believe that Native American Elder is right. Until we are collectively able to put those events soundly in the past, the 2001 past in which they lived, we will continue to carry the unhealed trauma around with us.
So my request is this. Please continue to share your September 11, 2001 stories. Let us all continue to be inspired and moved by the bravery and courage of that day’s heroes. Let us all learn from the mistakes and missteps to find justice. Let us all remember how incredibly fragile our human life is and let us recall September 11, 2001 as a time and a place that is now firmly in our past.