Sunday, September 11, 2011
I remember asking my parents where they were when Kennedy and MLK were shot, and asking my grandparents what it was like when Pearl Harbor happened. I knew that in my lifetime there would be defining events- things that I would remember- remember where I was when I heard the news... The OJ verdict, Princess Diana's death... but none will come close to that day back in 2001 when the world literally changed in a matter of moments.
Where was I?
I was in my early weeks of school. It was my first year being "Mrs. Doran," as I had been married just that last April and was getting used to my 'new name'. I was getting ready for my second graders to arrive to school. It was a beautiful day and I loved September. I remember getting an email from my husband that morning. Something about a plane hitting one of the twin towers. I didn't think too much of it at the time... Of course I prayed for the family of the pilot and anyone else who may have been on board at the time. I assumed it was a small plane and maybe it had hit the top part of the building since those buildings were so high. Little did I know the severity of what was happening and that my husband (working in business at the time) was huddled around a TV with coworkers getting the horrific details of that day in real time as they unfolded.
I was going through our morning routine, counting the days of school and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when my principal came over the PA asking everyone to make sure that all TVs in the school were turned off. Mine was off but still I remember wondering what was happening. A typed letter was brought to all of us letting us know what was happening though at the time, no one really knew WHAT was happening... It was soon after, that I saw another email from Jeff. Another plane had hit the other tower and in that moment I knew that whatever picture my mind had of that first plane- that picture was far off from the reality of what was happening in New York. Something was wrong. There couldn't possibly be two planes. America was under attack.
I immediately started praying. Thinking of the busy city. Wondering about my childhood friend who worked near and sometimes in the towers and praying that she wasn't there that morning. At lunch I was able to call my husband. I learned about the building collapsing, the other planes and what he described to me still was hard to picture. Some parents came to school to get their children. It wasn't until I got home and every channel on my television was showing the same picture... over and over that I saw the magnitude of what had happened that sunny morning. All I did was cry. I sat there and cried and cried and didn't know what else to do. I couldn't turn off the television. I just sat there watching and crying and praying that somehow we would all survive what was really happening. Our world changed that day.
September 12th was equally hard. I remember praying that I would have the words- the answers to the questions my second graders would ask. As I had expected, they were trying to make sense of what was going on. Seeing this was hard for me (at age 25) to fully comprehend, I can't imagine what it must have been like for a seven year old mind. They asked so many questions- about people dying about PARENTS dying and about those kids who no longer had a mom or dad at home. They were sad and they were scared. I assured them that they were safe and that our school was safe but realizing that we were living in much different times- I hoped that my words didn't give me up. At that time I really wondered if we were safe.
It was strange~ those days. There wasn't a plane in the sky and while I don't often think or notice planes, their absence was loud. My husband told me when he first noticed a plane return to the sky, he wondered. Perhaps we all did. The truth was anything was possible. If the twin towers could fall, anything could happen.
The days and weeks and months that followed September 11th were a blur. I would see a flag and begin to cry- and in those days flags were everywhere. Every car had one and they were on every front porch. People wore pins upon their jackets and red, white and blue on their shirts. People seemed kinder because we all somehow knew that we were walking witnesses to our world changing~ and the reality that it could change in just a moment was the one thing that I remember sitting with the most- and that unified us.
The need to "do something" was so strong in those days. I remember writing checks for hundreds of dollars in hopes to help the families that were directly affected. My students too wanted to do something and many went door to door collecting blankets, toys and games. For they were still remembering the children- their peers- who perhaps lost a parent and they wanted to make them smile again and know that children far away were still thinking of them. I remember loading up my car with things they brought along with handmade cards, crying again because I knew that they too wanted to help- put a big band aid on the enormous hurt that was everywhere. And they saw that hurt on every adult face that knew our lives were suddenly different.
I don't know if I will ever be able to fully explain the days of 9-11 to my children. The images I have sitting in church with tears just streaming down my face (and the faces of others) for weeks afterward is something that will stay with me. The country was in so much pain, but we somehow were in it together- even those of us far from the city- for those images were everywhere. Try as I may, I will never get those images out of my mind. The planes- the buildings crumbling and yes- the people jumping to their deaths to escape whatever hell they were experiencing in those buildings that would soon be no more.
And now ten years later, America has changed. I have changed. I cannot recall the last time I saw a car with a flag on it (and our cars do not have them either). My children and students do not know the word "terrorist" like those students ten years ago. People don't look at each other and somehow know what the other is thinking. We've gone back to 'normal'.
Today our family all wore shirts with our country's flag. I spoke to my children about why we were wearing them on this day and what happened to this country before they were even born. I know from their faces that they understood my words but the magnitude of it wasn't felt and I wonder if they will ever fully understand. Like my grandparents and Great Uncle would talk about Pearl Harbor- the history they lived- that was something that happened in the history books. It wasn't MY history. But September 11th~ September 11th was my history. I remember where I was. I remember what I felt.
At church today there was a baptism. A little boy who looked to be only a few days old. His father held him in his arms. His father had made it home for his son's birth. You see, he was serving in Afghanistan and in a few days, he will return. Upon hearing this, our whole congregation rose to their feet and applauded. The room filled with appreciation and it kept going. My daughter looked at me and wondered why I was crying like I was (more than my usual baptism tears). It isn't often that you get to share a room with a hero.
My world has gone back to 'normal'~ but I know for many, many families the tragedy that happened on September 11th is always right there below the surface. Much like September 15th for me is always right there...
The reality is that post September 11th, there are still people trying to hurt us simply because we are Americans. Post September 11th there are still brave men and women giving their lives to protect us. And Post September 11th I know that I live in a country that is resilient and will survive. Today I thank those brave men and women who served during our country's worst tragedy and those who continue to serve and give us a world of 'normal' back. Today (and every September 11th), I will remember them. Thank them. Pray for them.
And I have a feeling that I am not alone.
Where were you?
If you feel so moved, please leave a comment below of your 9-11. History is not just in books, but in the lives of those who live it.