I won’t be the only one remembering those who were killed seven years ago. There will be many articles, posts and tributes written today in memory of the lives taken away so violently and without purpose on September 11, 2001. So today – like the strike at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was to our parents’ or grandparents’ generations – we remember what we were doing, who we were with, our first reaction, and how we felt that day and in the days to follow.
September 11th wasn’t the start of the sadness for me that year. I’d learned in mid-summer that my brother was dying of pancreatic cancer. An illness that lurked deep inside him, causing him immeasureable suffering for two years, and created a deep chasm of anger and guilt between him and other family members.
On Saturday, the 25th of August I was able to fly to Alabama and see my brother one last time. He lay comatose, a skeleton of the person that he used to be, and unresponsive to our words. My sister and mom had also come in so we all shared a hotel room not far from my brother’s home. All weekend we waited for the inevitable – not wishing it to be – just knowing it would be . . . sometime. Before I left on Monday, I kissed him one more time, soaking in the warmth of his skin, and running my hand over his hair, memorizing the feel of it on my hand. I had spent hours just talking to him, hoping that he heard not only with his ears but with his heart. That he knew how much he meant to me and how much I loved him.
That next Friday, August 31st, I received the call that I knew was coming but didn’t want to answer. He had fought hard, but had begun in the 10th round instead of sooner. Once again, I found myself on an airplane – this time with the rest of my family – as we made our way east toward Alabama and a funeral. There were so many people who told us how he had touched their lives and they were better for knowing him – it made me proud that I’d had a brother like that.
Several days later we arrived home still in a state of grief and sadness. And so I still felt that weight on my heart the morning of September 11th as I was driving my youngest daughter to school. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote in a journal three days later:
14 Sept 01
Three days ago the world fell apart. 9-11. After dropping [my son & daughter] at school & getting gas, [my youngest daughter] & I were at Main St. crossing the bridge over I-35E when the breaking story hit KLUV that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in NY. First they thought it was a small plane & not even a jet. I immediately told [my youngest daughter] that terrorists had struck the center again. That they’d tried to bomb it in 93 and now this. She wanted to know what that would do and why there. Tried to explain world economics, etc. No way could I believe it was an accident. Once back at home I called [my husband] to give him news & then turned on NBC news. The pictures were bad. Smoke pouring out of the #1 tower not quite at the top. Then horribly as I & the nation watched 20 minutes after the first crash came a 2nd one into the 2nd tower. How many had died just in those 2 crashes? As I typed on the email my thoughts could not begin to comprehend the destruction. 20 minutes from that 2nd attack came a 3rd – directed this time in DC at the Pentagon. Bush had already spoken to the nation from his stop in Sarasota, Florida. My concern was to get the Pres. someplace safe as well as VP Cheney. If terrorists could strike the Pentagon, they could hit other DC places. Air travel was stopped. All planes grounded. Then word came that a missing flight had crashed in PA. In an empty field. People on board that plane had decided to stop the terrorism at the cost of their own lives but not taking the lives of other innocent people. I hadn’t been at work too long when not only the 2nd building that was hit collapse to the ground but so did the 1st one. How many rescuers were already in there? How many lives lost? The reporters kept calling it surreal because that was the only description. It looked like something out of a spy movie. Except it was all real. No Spielberg behind the camera. No Bruce Willis or Rambo who was going to take out the men responsible. No good guy to win over the bad. The 1st name on everyone’s lips was Osama bin Laden – the mastermind. Not Carlos the Jackal this time unless he was doing this from wherever they have put him. No Harvey Keitel in a movie costume. Just pure evil. I wasn’t alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I’ve heard about it all my life from parents who were alive then. But I don’t think this could compare. Then we knew who had hurt us. We had a geographic location to strike back at. This is not a country who has struck. It is a faction. I wasn’t sure if Hollywood had desensitized me against such brutality, destruction & evil but it hadn’t. Yesterday it felt as if my life had crumbled. I lost Jim over a week ago on Aug. 31st. My family was emotionally torn by other stuff this week. I just cried & cried & cried. Keeping busy at home wasn’t helping. I left the house for the quiet of the library. No TVs there & no radios. For over an hour I poured over immigration lists and settler books. Those ancestors of mine, long dead – who faced war in the form of the Revolution – the war that created the Patriotism we are witnessing today. The Civil War – which tried to bring a nation torn apart by different political views together. The the wars of the 20th century. WWI which Granddad was a part of. WWII – which my father was a part of. Korea – Viet Nam – the Persian Gulf War. What type of war will this now be? Can we stop the terrorism for future generations? Can we ever return to the carefree life we had before Tuesday morning? Can we ever see a plane overhead & not wonder or think about the 4 planes that were hijacked? Can we ever see a new picture of the Manhattan skyline & remember the twin towers that graced the picture & remember those who lost lives & loved ones in that terrorist massacre?
And then another piece I wrote to mark the 5th anniversary:
September 11, 2006: Five years after the attack that claimed thousands of lives and shattered the illusion of safety that America had strived to achieve for so long, the question seems to be “are we any safer now?” Most of the editorials seem to believe that we are not. The threat is still there around the next corner. We have been fighting the war on terror almost as long now – on the battlefront, in a middle eastern country that some believe we are right to be fighting and some believe its wrong – we fight terror on the information superhighway, over the telephone lines, through our many forms of media, and for some people – in their own homes. Measures the government and private industry has instituted in the last five years include: airport safety, immigration arguments, thorough background checks of some employees, the Patriot Act and much more. More importantly – what hasn’t changed? What safety measures are lacking? Many entered churches (some for the first time) after 9/11 to pray for the country, for those who had perished, for comfort, and for themselves. How many of those are still worshipping regularly? How many have turned away from our Creator as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq continues? How many mothers have listened in fear to news reports of roadside bombings in an area where their sons and daughters are deployed? And the biggest question – how do we fight an ideaology that wants only death for free Americans? We can push education – educate others to be tolerant and compassionate. America, however, can’t dictate what other countries are teaching their young people. What does it tell the world, when Americans can’t even begin to be compassionate to one another? Each day there are still horrendous acts taking place – right in our cities, in our suburbs, in the rural communities, in our companies and industries, and right in our backyards. Not only do strangers murder each other but parents and children talk to each other with venomous hate. What do we show the rest of the world when we can’t even get along?
Are we safer today than 5 years ago? Not really. We all like to think we are. We like to cling to that illusion that was shattered so instantly on 9/11 that we are a little safer. Can we live our lives in fear and terror? No – because as soon as we start – they have won the battle. We have to live – go to work, to play, to worship, to school, to enjoy our families, create friendships and be friends – or we aren’t really living. If we throw up our hands and say “why bother”, we have handed those terrorists our lives.
And so this morning, just as I was pulling into the drive to drop my grandson off at school – on this September 11th – the radio babble was shattered by words that were spoken seven years ago: ” . . . disturbing images . . . plane crashed into one of the World Trade Centers . . . ” and then silence. A silence that was filled with pain, anguish and sorrow. Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt everything I did seven years ago. I was once again back on Main Street with my daughter in the car driving on the bridge over I-35E. Grief over my brother’s death flooded back just as if it had been as recent as it had seven years ago. Then “New York Minute” by Don Henley began, and I felt the tears slide from my eyes.
May we always remember.