Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My memories of September 11, 2001

"Turn on the TV, Sarah!" my mother-in-law said when I picked up the phone.  "America is under attack!!"
Up to that point, it had been a quiet and rather normal sort of Tuesday morning.  The TV was on...but broadcasting Sesame Street for Rebekah who was eating her breakfast before heading off to Kindergarten.   

My mother-in-law hadn't given me any details.  Just panicked instructions to change the channel and do it quick.  Our country under attack?  Surely she was exaggerating.

Under protest from Rebekah, I changed the channel.  Video coverage of mass amounts of smoke and flame coming out of the twin towers greeted me...with newscasters reporting in shocked and shaky voices of the airplanes that had crashed into each.  A terrorist attack.  The likes of which hadn't been seen on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.

 I watched in horror as reports trickled in.  Horror turned to despair and tears as reports came in of another kamikaze style plane crash at the Pentagon.  I was glued to the TV as I absentmindedly went through the motions of getting Rebekah dressed and ready for school.  But I stopped, frozen to the spot and then practically falling to the floor in an ungraceful lump when the first tower collapsed.  Plumes of smoke and debris barreling down streets like some otherworldly monster.  People screaming, running, crying....all on live TV.  I could not believe what I was seeing.

As soon as I could trust my legs again, I stood and went upstairs to wake Bryan.  Up late the night before regardless, I decided he needed to know what was going on.  Through my tears I explained the chaotic tragedy unfolding in NYC and Washington D.C.  He couldn't wrap his brain around it.
"What do you mean the World Trade Tower fell?  It's gone?  How can it just be GONE???" 

I flipped on the TV in our room so he could see for himself.  Bryan's business trips to NYC had taken him inside the Twin Towers on more than one occasion.  He had taught classes in those buildings...knew people that worked inside those buildings...those same buildings that were now devastated, one on fire, another completely gone.  It was no wonder that he was having a hard time reconciling his brain with what his eyes were seeing.

 Rebekah was late to school.  I tore myself away from the TV coverage long enough to hurry her to the car, where I immediately switched on the radio.  Young as Rebekah was, she didn't really understand what was going on other than noticing her parents were acting a bit distracted.  She happily hopped out of the car and ran inside the school building as I flipped a u-turn and headed back home.  I reluctantly turned off the car as I prepared to make a mad dash back from the garage to the family room TV...anxious not to miss any of the news that was coming fast and furious by that point.  Sprinting as fast as I could, nevertheless as I tore open the garage door I was greeted with Bryan screaming from upstairs, "IT'S FALLING!!!  THE SECOND TOWER IS FALLING!!!"

Bryan cancelled his class he was supposed to teach that day.  I have no memory of how I took care of my three young children.  It must have been through a haze.  Bryan and I spent the next few hours huddled together, glued to the T.V.  Grief, despair and tears combined with a sense of it all being somewhat unreal.  In our cozy little house in suburban Utah, we didn't feel the immediate magnitude like those on the East Coast did.  And yet, somehow, during the rest of that day and the days and weeks and months that followed, we DID feel a sense of oneness.  We may not have been New Yorkers or D.C.-ites...but we were all countrymen, Americans.  We all grieved.  We all hoped.  We all prayed.  We all experienced 9/11...maybe not to the same degree but, still.  My way of life was not changed like many in NYC.  But because we were all Americans, 9/11 happened to all of us.  We were all changed to some extent.  Flags flew continuously for weeks and weeks.  Messages on billboards and on freeway overpasses.  I had never been so proud to be an American.

 Ten years have gone by.  The sheer magnitude of what happened that day still has the ability to take my breath away and leave me tearful and speechless.  As my children have grown older and reached a level that they could understand, I have showed them the footage and explained what happened, how and why.  But life goes on.  September 11th, in many ways, has become a day like any other.  We get up, we go to school, we have work and PTA meetings and gymnastics workouts and homework.  And yet, in the ways that matter most, 9/11 won't ever be just any normal day.  Despite the regular activities that continue....we will never forget.

Excerpts from Pres. Bush's speech the evening of September 11, 2001:
A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil -- the very worst of human nature -- and we responded with the best of America. With the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.

Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.
This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

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