Any Other Day?

Ground Zero - Nat GeoEvery year I wonder if this is the year I will forget. Every year I wonder if this is the year it stops feeling so fresh. Every year—as September 11th, 2001 slips further into history—I wonder if it’s strange it still haunts me like it does. And every year, as the anniversary of that fateful day approaches, I wonder… Is this the year it starts to feel like any other day?

Yesterday I tried to remember what September 10, 2001 had felt like. What was it like to wake up in a world where September 11th was just another non-descript day on the calendar? What did it feel like before the words nine-eleven lingered bitterly on our lips or hung heavily in the air like an acrid cloud of black smoke?

Try as I might, I can’t recall. I remember the weather was beautiful. People always talk about the weather that day. Have you noticed that? Sunny, warm, and cloudless… Everyone says it was the sort of late-summer day that makes you happy to be alive. In fact, everyone seems to marvel at just how extraordinarily perfect and “normal” that Tuesday was when it began.

As most people do, I still remember the day so clearly. I remember what I wore, what I ate, where I was when it happened, what I said, how I felt and how I didn’t sleep at all later that night. I remember experiencing a sensation that the sky was falling because a nameless, faceless enemy had brought the horror of war to our doorstep. And I remember wondering if anything would ever be the same again.

I don’t know when it will feel like just another day on the calendar, or if it ever will. I hope it never does. I do know that so far every year—like picking a scab off of an old wound—I still remember. I know that so far every year it feels as though it only happened yesterday.

So I guess I have my answer.

Tonight when I turn out the lights to go to sleep… I will close my eyes knowing that this was not the year that I forgot.

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Remembering…

Admittedly, I had another post all set to publish this morning. And I suppose you could attribute that to the fact that September 11, 2001 is drifting further and further away from us as the calendar pages fly. Increasingly, today feels like any other day. I’m not sure if that is a sign of healing or complacency… a good thing or a bad one. But as I woke and listened to the news and was reminded of the gruesome reality and continued significance of this day — I could not help but feel the need to pay homage to those lost on that Tuesday morning that was “just like every other morning.”

This photo was taken in February at the 9/11 memorial when we visited this year. The morning we wandered these sacred grounds was one of mixed emotion. On the one hand, I felt so fortunate to be able to take in this site with Lee… To have personally come full-circle by standing so near the void of those towers and taking in, with amazement, the wonder of how such a place of horror can be restored. Yet on the other hand, to wish—as I ran my gloved fingers over the names forever etched into history on the sobering black stone that surrounded each tower’s footprint—that this memorial need not to have been created in the first place.

September 11: 2,000 Miles Apart

I wrote the following story around September 11th of this past year—the 10th anniversary—but have not had the luxury of time to finish it until now. Although I know I could wait until September 11, 2012 to share it with you all… I feel like it doesn’t really matter. We all remember where we were that day. It is a topic that enters many, many conversations that I have with people to this day… on any given day of the year. It is an event none of us will soon forget and there are as many accounts of this infamous day as there are people on the planet.

This one is mine.

And hers. Thank you Jan for allowing me to share just a part of your story…

I was so proud of her for moving out of Ohio and embarking on an adventure all her own. With no job she decided to roll the dice, take a chance and move to New York City.

Brave girl, I thought. I admire her. I envy her. This experience will change her life forever… even if she winds up right back where she started… in the Buckeye State. She will have had the time of her life.

In the summer of 2001, she and a friend took an apartment in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district. Two blocks from the World Trade Center. Two blocks from what would soon become the site of the worst attack ever to occur on American soil. But of course, during the long, sunny days of summer in the city, the events of that fateful day couldn’t have been further from her mind.

Though job hunting, she still found plenty of time to go shopping and enjoy some big-city glam. I still remember the new clothes and trendy haircut she showed me once while we were both back on our home turf, visiting our families at the same time. She was a New Yorker now. And, as Carrie Bradshaw would say: She looked fabulous.

On a random, mid-September, Tuesday morning the sound and vibration from the first explosion woke her from a dead sleep. Eventually she made her way to the rooftop of her building to see what was happening. Not long after, another collision convinced her this was, indeed, not a dream. Fire and smoke and chaos reigned.

2,000 miles away in southern New Mexico it was a little after 6 a.m, Mountain Standard Time. I had gotten up like every other day, set my feet on the floor and flipped on the news. A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers and, like many others, I thought it an accident and hoped no one had been seriously injured. That was, until I watched—on live television—a second plane smash into the other tower. I was immediately sick. I knew this was no accident.

On the drive to work the news informed me that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania. Reports were also coming in that people had been spotted jumping from the twin towers. And it felt as though the sky was falling. In many ways… I suppose it really was.

My thoughts immediately turned to her.

I had no cell phone in 2001, so I began driving faster to the office to use the phone. Miraculously, when I rang her apartment, she answered—practically hysterical. Because of the news coverage here and the power outages there I quickly realized I was more aware of what was happening from a technical standpoint. She, much more aware than I of what was happening from a sensory one.

With 24-hour news coverage, instantaneous broadcasting, cell phones and the internet, technology had shrunken our world in such a way that even from 2,000 miles away I knew what was happening at the very same moment she was witnessing it. A voice yelled down my hallway: “The second tower just collapsed.” As I simultaneously heard her cry out the same words through the phone lines.

As she saw it begin to fall, her voice was gripped with terror and disbelief. She would soon report that her windows and view was becoming blackened from the overwhelming billows of ash rolling through the streets, swallowing everything in their path.

I told her that they were reporting for people to grab what they could from their homes, including towels or clothing to place over their mouths and noses and get out—NOW. We said our good-byes and hung up.

Later that night—from a hotel room in Albuquerque where I had traveled to on business—I spoke to her parents and found that she had safely arrived at a friend’s beach house on the Jersey shore. They had walked all the way there, relying on the kindness of strangers along the way to give them masks and bottles of fresh water.

And I thanked God she was OK. And as I later learned of all the people who never got to speak to their loved ones, let alone KNOW whether or not they were OK or gone forever… I thanked God that I was fortunate enough to speak to her in that life-changing moment from 2,000 miles away.

Jan and I at an Ohio State tailgating party. November, 2011

 

For One Day

Maybe for one day…

We will forget the little things that are troubling us.

We will forget to be angry or frustrated when we get stuck behind that awful driver.

We will chill out when we inevitably choose the slowest line at the checkout counter.

We will smile anyway when someone hurts us.

We will extend kindness to a stranger who—for all we know—may be in desperate need of some.

We will forgive the petty arguments we are in the middle of.

We will allow bitterness to loosen its grip on us.

We will hold close the ones we love and tell them how much they mean to us.

We will drop our shoulders
our guards
and our anger.

Miraculously, we did that ten years ago this week. We all stopped and for at least ONE day, we remembered the most important things. We remembered that all we really, truly need is right in front of us… be it family, friends or neighbors. We remembered what a gift it was just to be safe and to be alive. We learned that kindness and goodness will always trump jealousy, selfishness and rage.

This is how we should live each day, even though we don’t. Believe me… I include myself in that I-don’t-do-it-even-though-I-know-I-should category. I worry, I fret, I pace and I wring my hands while obsessing over what I think I need to accomplish that day, over a lack of money, or a lack of time, or a lack of respect I think I deserve, or an awful thing that someone said or did to me.

But perhaps for just ONE day … ten years after we witnessed first hand—through billows of black smoke and piles of ash—what hatred and fear and ignorance are capable of …

We will take a breath and remember.

And rather than dwell on everything that has gone wrong … we will pause and give thanks for everything that is still right.

This waterfall at the site of the 9/11 memorial at ground zero now fills the "void" left behind by one of the fallen towers.

A serviceman kneels at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon.

Families walk amidst endless flags in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

One Nation, Deeply Divided

Do you ever feel like running away from it all? I know I do at times. These days all I have to do is turn on the news and a sudden, uncontrollable urge to pack a bag and just disappear washes over me. I would leave my cell phone, computer and all other forms of communication and technology behind.

I would go somewhere where I would not be exposed to the hatred-filled arguments between just about EVERYONE in this country about our current president and whether or not he is a Socialist… or a Communist… or the Anti-Christ.

I wouldn’t have to listen to a polarized nation debate the efficacy of the jobs plan, the necessity and scope of health care reform, education reform, the dwindling budget and rapidly-emptying coffers, anticipated green laws, foreign policy, the continued instability and unrest in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

I would quietly slip away to a place where there were no such things as Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Ultra-Conservatives, Liberals and Ultra-Liberals, Independents, political pundits, corrupt politicians and loud-mouthed, single-minded individuals pushing their own agendas all under the guise of “productive discussion.” Since when were hatred and fear the key elements in productive discussion anyway?

You see … I am so deeply disappointed in our behavior as citizens of this country. If you are still reading this, do not think me unpatriotic. I am PROUD to be an American. I still get goosebumps every single time I stand and tilt my chin toward the stars and stripes being lifted by the wind while our National Anthem is sung or played. I try to say a sincere “thank-you” to our men and women in uniform whenever I get the chance.

But I can’t help thinking about where we were, who we were and how we treated one another just 10 years ago this week. September 11 is drawing near… again. For the tenth time our nation will stop and gather to remember the tragedy that occurred on that fateful day. Most of us will probably pause to remember where we were, what we were doing, how we heard, what we witnessed and hopefully—more importantly—how we felt.

A horrific thing happened on that Tuesday morning… an unspeakable act that has forever charred the fabric of the American tapestry. But on that day, and in the months and probably even the year that followed, we were united as a country. We had a common enemy: Terrorism and those who perpetuated it. We had a common goal: To restore peace and a sense of safety in our homes and in our communities.

What happened? Have we so quickly forgotten what we were so brutally reminded of on that day? That we are ALL equal? That we are ALL human? That we ALL love… and hurt… and bleed? That we will not live on this earth forever? That we are all in this together whether we like it or not?

Please, PLEASE I ask you to consider these things this week and if only for a little while… I encourage you to look at your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, fellow classmates and strangers you pass on the street… and remember that we are far more alike than we are different.