Sunday, September 11, 2011
We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe
We remember…we celebrate…we believe.
The words in this post’s title are from a Catholic hymn written by Marty Haugen. For some reason, probably because “Never Forget” is plastered on pictures, newspapers and social networking sites, this song has been the score to my life during the week leading up to today’s poignant anniversary. In addition to being the soundtrack, it has also been my prayer. I have thought a lot about that day and each time I see or hear the questions “do you remember what you were doing”…or “what image do you recall?”…this song quietly enters my thoughts and I remember…
It is the tenth anniversary of September 11th. I, like millions of Americans, remember exactly what I was doing that beautiful morning. My husband and I had attended a before school meeting with our youngest daughter’s fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Kilroy, together, building a partnership and strategies for a successful year to come.
As we drove home from the local coffee shop we stopped in, after the appointment, we talked about how pleased we were and glad Emily was going to have such a wonderful influence in her life. When we turned the corner onto our street, we waved to our neighbor Sharon who was sitting in her ginormous Yukon truck at the end of the road…we assumed she had just put her youngest on the bus for school. It was the look on her face that made me question if everything was all right. I pointed her out to Bill and was in the process of asking him to stop so we could check, but he told me had taken enough time off from his work day and needed to get to the office…so he raced on up the hill to our home and with a quick peck good-bye, dropped me at the doorstep.
I went in the kitchen and put the tea kettle on and thought about calling Sharon, asking her to stop in for tea. I popped into the den to put the TV to keep me company while I tidied the kitchen. As the image appeared, I could hear something vastly strange about Matt Lauer’s voice. I was unable to process the image of smoke billowing out of the tower…and as his voice explained about the plane crash, I saw the second plane fly so deliberately into the second tower. I screamed.
Within seconds, the world turned upside down. I knew why Sharon looked the way she did. I ran to the phone to call her…to seek comfort as well as to offer comfort…no answer. I ran to the door but turned around and stared at the TV hoping this was all a terrible joke.
I called Bill, knowing he was in the car and left a voice mail that something awful was happening and to call me as soon as possible.
I was frozen, standing before the TV in the den. The kettle whistled and I tore myself away from the images to turn it off. I was afraid that if I stopped viewing something more horrid might happen. I was willing all that was sacred to stop the madness…to prove to me that what I was witnessing wasn’t real.
For some reason, when Katie Couric spoke, I began to shake and I changed the channel to ABC. Charlie Gibson…he would help me make sense of it.
As the words terrorist attack, Al Qaeda, Bin Laden breached the September calm, I felt sick…so sick that I had to run to the bathroom to throw up. And then I began shaking and crying and praying…
I called the elementary school as soon as I could catch my breath. I asked the secretary if they all knew what was going on and if so what was going to happen with the children. My first reaction was to get in the car and go get them but as I talked to Patty R, I realized that until any of us knew what was what, the safest and most “normal” place for the kids to be was in their classrooms.
I sent an email, (because by now the phone lines were jammed), to a friend at the high school offering to come and help with my other daughter’s situation. I knew that they would be more aware of the circumstances and have questions, fears and concerns. I got a quick reply that I would be called if needed (and God, did I want to be needed!!) but that the superintendent had encouraged all district personnel to proceed through the day as normally as possible. Parents showing up could make things worse. After school activities had been cancelled and in the hours that lay before me, I was trying to process what I would say to my girls.
My sick vigil in front of the TV continued. I prayed violently. I paced and cried and struggled. My dog Molly paced with me, looking up at me, knowing something was wrong but being a dog, could only match my strides. When I finally sat down, she crawled on my lap and licked away the tears on my face…this only made me cry harder!!
When the reports about the Pentagon broke, I was frozen once again. I thought of all the people my family knew through our Coast Guard and Air Force connections. I called my dad, a retired Coast Guard Captain and not knowing what to say, I cried for a while, told him I loved him and I hung up.
When the towers fell, I threw up again.
After a while, I muted the TV. I couldn’t listen to the reporters on site cramming down panic in order to report what they were seeing. The images were saying enough. But the silence in the house was scary…mostly because I could now hear my own ragged breathing…the sobbing. I turned on the radio thinking I would hear my favorite classical music station, but there was only more reporting. I put in a CD of classical guitar music and turned to put the tea kettle back on…but as I stretched my hand out to grab the teapot, I couldn’t stop it from shaking. Turning the music off, I slowly walked back into the den to once again take up the vigil and listen to the details over and over again.
I remember being out on the deck, looking up at the brilliant blue sky asking why when I heard through the slider door about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I was certain that I could take no more of this.
Bill got to the office and with his colleagues watched the unfolding horror. He called me and I begged him to come home, but he said that he needed to stay. At the time I was crushed…I thought he would want to be with me, to take care of me…it was not until weeks later that I (finally unselfishly) realized that he was in no emotional shape to drive and that being at work was his “normal”.
Over the years, we have been told by journalists, analysts, talking heads and historians that 9/11 was the day the world changed forever. We would know our modern history as, before 9/11 and after 9/11.
That day, I changed forever. I feel it deep in my bones. For a long time, I felt defeat. I felt that despite the fact that the US was the most powerful and influential nation on earth and that as Americans we came together so uniquely unified to face this most heart aching tragedy, we let the world down. How else could one explain such an attack? Days or maybe it was weeks after 9/11, rumors, based on a book, soon to be released in Europe, started in France that the attacks on the US were not a terrorist plot, but a shrewd, cold-hearted plan exacted against our financial and government institutions by our own government. I had read about this in the papers and again I was sickened…how could anyone believe this? In October 2001, I was shocked to find out some colleagues from France, who were in Massachusetts for a business meeting, were buying this BS and actually had the gall to broach the subject over dinner. If we had not been in a restaurant, I would have slapped both of them across their faces. Bill and I told both men that if they valued any part of our friendship, they would never speak of that conspiracy again. To this day, they never have. Shortly after the bombings in London in 2005, one of these gentlemen apologized to me for his 9/11 remarks and that has been then end of that.
So this change in me…it has made me more tolerant and less tolerant…depending on my circumstance…I admit that when I am at the airport, I look for anything out of the ordinary…suspicious. Immediately following the attacks, I “profiled”…and I pray that my prejudice would be unfounded, as it always has been, and I prayed for forgiveness for thinking the way I did... but I keep a watchful eye…for that which is suspicious. But I cannot stand it when someone is sorted out because of appearance or custom. While I lived in Paris, the French government was crafting laws that would make it illegal for a woman of faith to wear a burqa or veil covering all or part of her face. The “French” felt this form of covering was oppressive to a woman’s rights and of course, it was not at all French in custom. Being a First Amendment loving American in Paris, I often found myself asking my new French friends how they could support a law that did not allow someone to express their faith willingly. Most of the time my friends believed that Muslim women are forced to wear a niqab veil and that they are afraid of the men in their lives…to which I suggested wouldn’t it be better to first identify those who are choosing to wear the niqab freely and support them while going after the men who are abusive…and somehow it would come back to the notion that that wouldn’t work because men have the right to manage their households…but if the burqa is illegal then the state wins…huh??? For a country that has so many churches, faith is not very French anymore.
This change has made me love my country even more…and question the choices our leaders are making. I turn time and again to the words and examples of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams…to the ideals of Henry, Madison and Franklin…and to the inspiration of Lincoln and ask myself when and where did politics and governing become blurred? Are these truths still self-evident?
The struggles we face today arise not from being affiliated with a party…they arise from a need to be right all the time...to win at all cost…and put one’s own interest ahead of the common good. My goal is to teach my children and others I love that what makes us great, what makes us strong are liberty and justice for all. If you exercise your rights, your opinion or your work to the end that someone else is not treated justly, then you have crushed liberty…for all. Liberty is freedom from arbitrary controls or restrictions and with these freedoms, come responsibility and accountability…to oneself, one’s neighbors and fellow citizens…without judgment…save that for God and the Supreme Court.
This change in me has made me calmer…I am still a worry wart…but I do not rush to judgment as quickly as before 9/11…I have become pretty good at seeing the BIG picture and I never forget all that with which I am blessed. I think about the Hanson family who died that terrible day…a beautiful little family, from my town…so full of life and potential…gone. I thought of them each day I served as a volunteer in a school, on a committee or for a youth organization…I worked to make this place a place they would have been happy to thrive in.
This change in me has made me a less silly person. I still have a strange, dark sense of humor and I laugh at goofy things; but I do not suffer fools well and I cannot stomach prejudice in the guise of a joke or rumor that one needs to check with Snopes regarding its veracity. I do not have time to waste on people tearing others down because it makes them feel superior…as my friend Shua quoted from the Quran at an interfaith service today, I heard her say that superiority is not about where you come from, or how strong you are…rather superiority is God’s way of recognizing your character and your actions and how you support those who need you.
I thought the change in me had made me nostalgic…always looking back to simpler days…to the days before…what, I don’t know…to before Oklahoma City…or Waco…or Munich…Dallas…or Pearl Harbor?
Today I heard two things that just may have changed me again. First, I heard Christianne Amanpour say that the 9/11 10th anniversary was not about closure, it was about moving on. I never thought about not finding closure…or in my mind justice. But now I think, I will focus on moving on and that change as it will come in who knows what way, shape or form, is one force that will get me going…
The other thing I heard was the story of BC graduate Wells Crowther, a red bandanna wearing finance guy at the World Trade Center and how on that day he saved the lives of a dozen people and died trying to save many others. It was recounted to me that he called out into the black, smoke up on the 78th floor, “If you can stand, stand now. If you can help others, do so.”
I can stand. I can help others and I will do so.
God Bless America and you my dear friends.