Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years

Twelve years ago today, I received a call from my then-husband from work, telling me to turn on the TV. I was in our bedroom. "Which channel?", I asked.

"ANY channel!".

An airliner had just crashed into the North Tower of the WTC. I was standing in our bedroom in front of the TV, unable to move, watching the aftermath, the reporters, the "breaking news" alerts scrolling across the screen, trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened. Just minutes later, a second plane flew into the South Tower.

I picked up the phone and called my friend Dana, who lived a few houses down. Her TV was off, and her day was still "normal". We spent the next few hours in her living room glued to her TV, terrified, as news broke of a third plane hitting the Pentagon, and then a fourth in Pennsylvania. It was now being declared a "terrorist attack". Rumors were running wild as possible targets were named for more attacks, Atlanta among them. 

Dana and I drove out to the elementary school and pulled our kids out early. We did not know what to tell them when they asked why. They were so young. James was only 6 years old. 

Twelve years ago, to this minute as I write, our country was under attack, and it was all playing out on television: we saw the second plane flying into the building, people jumping out of windows. The South Tower collapsing. The North Tower collapsing. Businessmen in suits and women in heels screaming and running from a huge cloud of smoke and ash that was quickly spreading over the streets. And we felt helpless.

In the days and weeks that followed we began to hear the stories. They were tragic. Heroic. Unfathomable. It was a strange time. Our country was literally being torn apart, but its people were tightly emotionally bonded. We were scared, we were sad, and we were angry,  but through it all we stood together. This was our home. Patriotism was everywhere. We hung our flags. We displayed stickers of the American flag on our car windows. We wore T-shirts with a picture of determination and courage: three firemen raising a flag against a backdrop of devastation. The Phoenix rising from the flame. Political differences were cast aside because we focused on what we shared: respect. And we all vowed to "never forget".

On the first anniversary of the attacks, Dana and I were in Kohl's doing some shopping. We checked our watches so we knew when to have the moment of silence. A voice came over the PA system announcing it was time. Everybody in the store stopped what they were doing. Nobody said a word. Nobody moved. It was still fresh in our minds; we still remembered. 

Twelve years later, most of us have forgotten. We "remember" for one day out of the year, if we remember to check the date. During moments of silence,  we watch the time on our cellphones so we know when we can get back to our day. That is, if we observe it at all.

The families of the victims, those directly impacted by the tragedy, do not have this luxury. They do not have to check the calendar. They are not arguing conspiracy theories on Facebook today. But most of the rest of us have forgotten their names. We remember"That guy who said 'Let's roll'.". "Those people who stormed the cockpit.". We have forgotten what we meant when we promised to "Never forget".

I am not able to throw stones. I am guilty of this complacency. I had to google a timeline of events just to write this post, and I'm ashamed. So today I am reading stories of the names I'd forgotten. It was Todd Beamer.

I am alone in my room, but I am mindful of the time so I can stop typing during the moments of silence. I am forcing myself to recall all the details of that day, all the emotions I felt. It turns out I remember it very well, and it's hard to face it, again. At the same time, it's strangely cathartic. 

I found this video this morning; it's of a phone call I'd never heard before. A voice from within one of the towers to a 911 operator. There aren't any graphic images, but the end of the video has me shaken like nothing has since 2001.

But I needed to be shaken.

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