I've heard it said that people of my parent's generation can almost always tell you exactly where they were or what they were doing when they heard that JFK had been shot. For me, this stark and sobering memory is reserved for September 11.
I was already at work at the law firm I had just started working at a month ago. My husband of approximately 3 months was at work as well. One of the attorneys walked in the door and asked me if I had heard about the plane that just flew into the World Trade Center. I hadn't and I went immediately to the internet for more information. I spent the next several hours huddled with my coworkers around a tiny 6 inch portable television set up in a corner office. We were horror struck. One of my coworkers cried for people she did not know. I simply sat and stared and stared and stared.
We watched smoke billow from a gaping hole in the side of the tallest building in our country. We watched in complete and utter disbelief as another huge plane plunged into the side of the second tower. We stared at the fireball. We did not speak.
I remember gulping fear. I remember feeling like going underground - somewhere to hide. I felt like they were coming after me. Planes were missing. Reports of more explosions, more attacks, more locations. And the horror of first-hand reports of people calling from burning offices, of people watching strangers jumping from the burning towers. I still remember the images of the firemen walking toward the burning towers - wishing they would run and get the people out.
And then the towers fell. They fell. Crumbled like sandcastles.
We watched and waited for days while the dust and the debris floated in the air. I remember feeling numb. I didn't cry. I didn't visibly react other than shaking my head. I didn't say much about it. I watched. I listened. I didn't comprehend.
I couldn't have possibly.
It's true - I didn't personally know anyone who perished on September 11, 2001. I held no personal vigil for someone I loved who was missing. I stared at that cloud of dust and debris praying that ANYONE would just walk out - not by name - just a person. I did not lose a member of my life to terrorists. I was saddened, yes, certainly. I felt great sympathy for those who had lost in such a horrific way. But I was removed from that tragedy in a way - because my life was somewhat unaffected.
Over the years, I've been unable to shake this feeling that we've all moved on way too quickly. Every September 11th, the coverage of the memorial service seems shorter and shorter and shorter. How long before it becomes just a brief mention on the nightly news? For me, the numbness has been fading.
This week I watched clips on youtube of the Today Show's coverage on the morning of September 11th. I listened to their confusion, their fear, their disbelief, their speculation. I watched the minutes pass between the first and second tower attacks. And I fought the urge to scream at my computer screen - "RUN! JUST RUN!" It was frustrating. Because I knew what was coming. I knew what no one would have guessed that morning as they watched smoke billowing from the first tower.
The grief came. I cried.
They had no idea. None of us do. And I'm sure if they could, they'd want us all to recognize, realize, grasp the uncertainty of life.
We all lost. We were all attacked. We were all victims in one way or another. Maybe the people we did not know who perished that morning 9 years ago were strangers, but they were ours. You feel it when you watch the Olympics. You feel it when they talk about the war. You feel it when the news covers a troop homecoming or sendoff. You feel it when you walk down the street and that man or woman in uniform walks by you in thick soled black boots. Ours.
My fear is that we are letting the day go too much. That we are forgetting more and more. Some of that is excusable. But some if it is by choice. And that is what I cannot seem to reconcile. Surely, every major tragedy in the world is slowly forgotten more and more over time. Survivors of the Holocaust, Vietnam, the Korean War, World War II, World War I, I have imagine all felt a sense of injustice as their story fades out of news coverage, out of memories, and onto the pages of history books. For me, I am unable to forget the people of September 11. Because they were ours. To me, they always will be.