The day the world changed, I was still in bed. Sleeping, when the first plane hit the tower. I remember dreaming it, my television was on, and somewhere in the mix, reality blended with my subconscious, I awoke knowing everything has changed.
I watched the second plane hit the second tower, and felt the same sadness, fear, anger that coursed the veins of every other American. Then the pentagon. Then the plane in the field. Then the towers fell, taking so many lives with them.
How dare they.
I was trapped with that feeling for a long time. Numbed by the horror and senselessness of it all, in my mind, I couldn’t rectify holiness with mass murder–and to be honest, I still can’t.
My sister lived in New York City in 2001. She called to say she was okay, but I remember thinking, no one is okay.
I went to the blood center, hoping to do something–anything…my small part. But, as we later learned…it wasn’t a rescue mission.
9-11 changed the landscape of our country. Not just with the gaping hole in the New York sky line, but with everything else. The added security, the distrust, the America flags that fly–suspended from homes and buildings and standing tall over midwestern corn fields. We all changed that day. Being an “American” came to mean something new.
I remember September 11, 2002 almost as vividly. I sat in front of the television, listening to the names of the innocent who fell one year before. He was a husband, she was wife, he was a friend, she was a mother, he was son, she was just doing her job–showed up like any other morning to put food on her table and gas in her car. It felt like a lifetime between those 365 days, one year before was tragic and hopeless, an entire nation gridlocked with uncertainty. A year later, we were celebrating the greatness of these people and who they were as individuals, they were no longer collective victims.
This year, I’ve watched a lot of the 9-11 specials Bio and National Geographic put out. I’ve listened to the survivors recount their stories. So many acts of bravery, selflessness, and brotherhood, people gave up everything for the chance to save a stranger. Probably, for me, the most touching was Biographies Beyond: Messages From 9/11.
The show featured fives stories, narrated and told by the people who lost a loved one on that day. But where it differed from the other shows, was that it wasn’t about what happened that day, during those hours…it was about what happened after, in the private moments of personal grief and acceptance. Two wives spoke about how their husbands, then men they loved and cherished, came back and told them we’re okay now, we’re safe. A mother, how she knew her son was gone, and how she could feel the light from him. A brother, so twisted with grief, how his brother spoke to him and brought, with that message, peace and comfort. A firefighter, his survival and how stood for something more, a message carried from beyond.
Maybe some people think the “ghost” stuff is junk science…but I believe that when a life is lost so quickly, something lingers in what’s left behinds…words still needing to be said, so important is more real than we can touch or explain away. And for that, I’m grateful those families find peace in what they experienced–that they were able to breathe and have the answers they needed.
What I realized, and not for the first time, but for the first time I can finally put it into words, is that what happened that day, September 11th, 2001…was a terrible, awful thing…but the terrorists failed. They wanted to ruin us. To take us out with four planes. They may have taken lives and brought down buildings, but America and the people who live within the this country woke up on September 12th stronger than ever before. We’ve felt the effects, we’ve adjusted to the changes–but we survived…better than that, even, we’ve thrived, we’ve found our footing on rocky ground again. We’ll never go back to September 10th, 2001 and innocence of it…but we’ll go on, and be better for it.
Today, I’ll remember not only what we lost, but what we learned.
God Bless the men and women who were bigger than themselves that day and for all the people they saved, and all the things they sacrificed … you’ll always be remembered with love and respect.