Today is a hard day for most people in America.
Or should I say for Americans?
And in other countries that consider themselves our friends.
I realized this morning that my son was going to go to kindergarten and in the morning announcements the 5th graders would probably say something, have a moment of silence, talk about it a bit. Maybe the teacher will talk about it. I wanted my son to hear about this tragedy from a loved one first. I should have thought about it last night and talked to him then, but since I am the queen of bad timing, I talked to him this morning.
He is only almost 6, so I didn’t want to overwhelm him or scare him. I told him that this was a special day for America because 11 years ago something bad happened to a lot of good people. I showed him a beautiful picture of the twin towers, I told him it was in New York which is across the country. I told him that 11 years ago some very bad men flew some airplanes into those buildings and killed a lot of people. That everyone in America was so scared that day. But that we also found a lot of hope and goodness that day too. We found heroes like firefighters and policemen and EMT’s that went to help all those people, and they were real heroes because even though they were afraid, they went in to the smoke and rocks to help. I told him we found heroes in the neighborhoods who helped their friends and neighbors. We found heroes all over the country who packed up and went to help, or donated blood and more.
One day I will tell him about the pentagon and flight 93 and the heroes in those places. One day I will tell him how we all joined together to hope for and pray for and love the people in New York and Washington DC and all the families in both situations and on Flight 93. One day I will tell him how the air traffic control people landed every plane in America in less than 2 hours. One day I will tell him about the Canadians that opened their homes to people stuck in the airports away from home because of the no fly command. For days. One day I will tell him more of the terrible parts, but also more of the beautiful parts. More about the heroes and the normal people who became heroes.
His reaction this morning: First he said “that is terrible.” And I agreed. I said it was and it was scary. And then he insisted it might have been an accident. I was telling him that no, it wasn’t an accident. The people who did this were mean, bad people who wanted to hurt Americans. He didn’t really understand that. I told him that’s ok, most of us didn’t understand it either. We talked a little more and when he was done asking questions I let it go. I understood his feeling that it MUST be an accident. That is exactly how I felt between that first plane hitting, and the second plane hitting. I thought “it has to be an accident.” Because how does something like going to work, or getting on a plane, or walking down the street go so very very wrong? How does it?
Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. Just like my parents remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot and Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Just like my grandparents remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed, or Hiroshima was bombed. It will never leave us. It is etched into our memory.
I was home alone. I had called in sick from work. I got up and turned on the “Today Show” which I watched for news every morning as I got ready. I turned it on JUST as the cameras were showing the smoke coming from the north tower. Just as Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were saying they had word that this might be a bombing in the World Trade Center. I sat mesmerized on my living room floor. Then from the left of the screen came the second plane – flying toward the other tower. And I crumpled. I don’t think I physically crumpled, but I did inside. I was in shock. I knew it wasn’t an accident.
I called my father at work. I said Dad, turn on the news right now. Turn it on. Airplanes just ran into the Twin Towers. He said “What? What do you mean? There must be a mistake.” And I think I yelled to turn on the news.
I sat there all day watching these things unfold. Watching the pentagon, watching Manhattan, watching as people ran for their lives, as the debris and dust and smoke took over people, knocked them to the ground, stopped them in their tracks. I watched as the police and firemen and EMT’s and others ran INTO the chaos. I watched as they tried to get people out of the danger zone. I watched as thousands of people crossed The Brooklyn Bridge on foot. Terrified, alone, looking for people they knew, clinging to their children. I watched as people covered in brown/grey dust emerged from the terror with looks of disbelief on their faces, with physical pain, helping each other walk, crying, screaming or just in shock.I watched it all and it broke part of me.
I sat there on my floor all day long. I don’t think I showered. I probably ate something fast and easy – I couldn’t stop watching. I felt so helpless, so small. I didn’t have any way to help and I couldn’t think of anything to do. So I sat. And watched. I talked to loved ones on the phone. I didn’t know anyone in New York, I did have a cousin who lived just outside of Washington DC, but my Dad found out right away they were fine – I wasn’t trying to make sure people I knew were alright, I just wanting to hear my loved one’s voices.
That first day was scary. No one knew what could happen next. Were there more attacks of a different nature planned? Who did this and why? What was being done to find out what had happened? What had happened to all those people when those buildings fell? Did anyone get out?
We learned the planes had all been grounded, but later that day fighter jets started flying over our city (Denver) constantly. It was a scary sound. It didn’t make me feel safe, it made me wonder why they were there. Why did we need fighter jets flying over every major city if the attacks were over?
I didn’t sleep that night. I may have dozed in my recliner or on the floor. But I couldn’t really sleep.
It is strange to me how there are two “main” stories of what happened on 9/11. Almost like different realities. There are the people who were closely involved. People who lived in New York or who lived in Washington DC (and the surrounding area) who were terrified, physically affected by the damage, who were hoping loved ones, friends, and neighbors were OK. These are the people sent home from the cities, or sent away from home out of the cities. These are the people who were trying to get to their children and get out. Who were looking for their husbands or wives. The people who stood in their homes or front yards or back yards or streets and watched the towers fall. Even if they didn’t loose a loved one that day, they were so completely affected by this event that it took over their lives. They were wondering about their homes, their jobs, their people. I can’t imagine their terror and I can’t imagine what those weeks were like for them.
Then there are the people all over the rest of the country. People like me. Who aren’t trained to go help as EMT’s or as doctors or as search and rescue. People like me who couldn’t do anything. Who were frozen by their inability to help. Who could only sit and watch from across the country and cry and be afraid.
I was so proud of all of the hero stories. So proud of how people helped each other. So proud of all of the hope and help that came out of this tragedy.
And I hope that will one day be our focus. The heroes, the kindness, the good that rose out of those ashes and fires. That one day our country will let go of the fear and anger. I hope that one day we will realize that we can not keep blaming and fighting and invading over this. I hope that one day we will realize that terrible things sometimes happen. That sometimes those terrible things can’t be stopped. I hope that one day we will get to the point that we are at with Japan now. When there isn’t hatred and bigotry and ignorance based on the few people who were terrible and hurt our country.
We are bigger than that. We are better than that. No, don’t forget 9/11. How could we? Don’t let it go. This morning I noticed very few of the news programs were talking about it for the first time in 11 years. I didn’t like that feeling. I wanted to remember – to hear the bells ring. To see the families reading off the names of the dead.
It has changed us. We are not the same country we were 11 years ago yesterday. I would like to see the change swing toward the positive. I would like to see us use our memories of that day to do good. I would like to see us stand up like the heroes who ran into the chaos and try to help our fellow men.
I would like to believe that the attacks on Muslim and Sikh and Arabian peoples in the last years were because of isolated ignorant people. That not all Americans are so ignorant that they think all Middle Eastern people are out to get us. That they know that we have many fine Muslim Americans here who do good things in their communities.
Please, join me in saying that we stand against hatred of all kinds. Yes, hatred brought those towers down. But hatred will also destroy our nation if we don’t stop it. I understand the anger. I can even understand the desire for revenge. We are better than that. We can overcome those feelings and heal this country. We don’t have to let the hate take over, seep in, break us.
Joint me in turning 9/11 into a day we honor all those who died that day, all those who have died since from illnesses related to those conditions, all those who have died in the wars in the middle east.
Let’s not honor the hatred that brought those towers down. Let’s honor the love and humanity that made us help our fellow man in the moments, days and weeks after the tragedy.
In 2009 Congress declared 9/11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Use the tragedy to build, to help others. Use that day to do something good for your fellow human beings.