“The hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men.”
~Henry David Thoreau
The sky was a never-ending blanket of blue, home to a glowing sunshine that warmed the crisp air of a mid-September morning. As all of us around the country began our day – eating breakfast, reading the paper, watching television as we got ready for work or school – we were completely unaware that we’d soon be relying on the sun so strongly to warm something else: our spirit. We were, in a way, still ensconced in a bubble of innocence then. Bad things happened – terrible, horrendous, tragic things happened – but the scale on which we were about to see that was, quite simply, unfathomable. But then the planes crashed, the towers fell, and the hearts of so many people worldwide crumbled right along with them.
Everyone’s sharing their stories today – where they were ten years ago, how they found out that the world as we knew it had been forever changed. We do that every year. We pause, we reflect, we remember. But this year, on the tenth anniversary of the day that’s still so raw, so fresh, in our minds, it seems different somehow. And yet, in other ways, it feels exactly the same. How could it possibly be ten years? So many of us are asking that. It seems more like just yesterday. The details, the emotions, the overwhelming crush of it all isn’t really in the past. It lives with us always – sometimes in the back of our minds, sometimes in the forefront. But never forgotten. Always there. Always a part of who we are. And maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly how it should be.
On September 11, 2001, I was a freshman in college. My first class of the day was Honors English, and the weather was so beautiful (and, in retrospect, so eerie – the juxtaposition of the calm, sunny skies against the utter darkness of what happened never fails to give me chills) that my professor had suggested having class outside. We sat in a circle on the soccer field, analyzing readings from one of our textbooks. And, because of that, we didn’t hear the news right away. I guess you could say our bubble of innocence went a little longer without being punctured. But then reality came piercing through, and we all deflated right along with it.
I remember standing in the lobby of Boyer Hall, literally frozen in place as I watched the news coverage on television. I remember the instant buzz on campus as word made its way around of all classes after noon being cancelled. I remember the kindness of a virtual stranger – a classmate from Psychology offering to drive me home because I didn’t have my car on campus that day. I remember calling my mom and her promising she was on her way to pick me up. I remember staying on the phone with my aunt as I waited, because we were all afraid that if we disconnected our calls, the lines wouldn’t work again. I remember worrying so much, so viscerally, about my friends who went to college in New York. I remember my aunt being so worried about my uncle’s brother-in-law, who flew out of Newark airport that day (he was fine, thank goodness). I remember coming online, reading everyone’s stories and sharing in their disbelief. I remember waiting outside for my sister to get off the bus when she came home early from school. I remember my silver bracelet snapping into pieces and falling on the ground, broken like so much else. I remember sitting in front of the television all day, all week, unable to make myself move away. I remember the shaky, terror-streaked look on my cousin Rose’s face as she talked about being in Manhattan, standing at the window of her office building and seeing the second plane hit. I remember sitting in my Intro to Communications class the next day, our professor telling us we were living history and that the media coverage was unprecedented. I remember all the news anchors wearing their flag pins, because for that day, those days, they weren’t only journalists, but people sharing in the same loss as everyone else.
And, as I remember, I know that none of us will ever forget. The fear, the panic, the uncertainty, the horror, the tragedy. The images we saw in the papers, the interviews we heard on the news, the stories of unspeakable, unimaginable terror that had once seemed like something from an alternate reality. Or, maybe, no reality at all. Things like that were for the movies, or television, or books. Until ten years ago. Then it became part of America’s history and the world’s tale. We can’t forget, I truly believe that. Nobody who was a part of that day, from near or far, will ever be able to forget. And not just the bad, the tragic, the heartache. But the good. The firefighters, policemen, and first responders who didn’t give a thought to their own lives if it meant saving others. The World Trade Center workers who could have gotten to safety, but stayed to help their colleagues and ended up paying the ultimate price. The Pentagon staff who simply reported to work, with no possible way of knowing what was about to be unleashed. The heroes who took down the fourth plane, high above a Pennsylvania field. The parents who lost children and the children who lost parents. The majestic, inspirational New York skyline that will never be the same. The bravery, the courage, the unity, the compassion. The hope. There is so much about this day that will forever be burned into our minds, but it’s my wish that someday, maybe even today, the hope will prevail. September 11th is a day of darkness, but in that darkness is when we can best see the light. That’s when the stars shine through. That day, thousands of new stars started twinkling up in the sky. Here’s to them, to their families, and to all the valiant survivors who lived through a day that could have so easily broken them. Here’s to a tomorrow filled with sunshine. None of us will ever be the same. None of us will look at the world the same. None of us can go back to the way we were. And we shouldn’t. Instead, we should honor the memories of the lives lost. We should do what they did: live our lives out loud, chase our dreams, embrace every day and every moment.
Honor. Admire. Respect. Love. Live. Listen. Look. Unite. Cry. Think. Wonder. Hug. Hold. Read. Write. Watch. Draw. Value. Cherish. Work. Teach. Remember.
What do you remember?