I’ve tried to write this several times over the years, and it’s never sounded right. This year, I just need to let the words lie on the paper and trust myself, and you, to understand the heart of what I’m trying to say.
I’m going to spend very little time on the Internet today, because the 9/11 tributes are just too much.
The tributes have their place, and we certainly should remember the people we lost. Continuing to flay a wound that’s been festering for over a decade and prolong a war without clear cause and meaning anymore, not so much. I support our troops; my husband was in the Air Force and spent most of his time overseas. My dad was a Marine. I have no issue with the military, and for most of the soldiers, they can’t do anything about their orders, but I don’t support this endless war. But I’m getting off topic.
I was in tenth grade on September 11, 2001, and just before ten in the morning I had to be at history class. Our school was very overcrowded so my class was in a trailer near the bus loop. My previous class was right inside, so I was always one of the first people to arrive. When I opened the door Mr. Harrison had the TV on. I thought we were watching some war film, because I saw the buildings and the smoke.
“What’s this?” I asked.
He didn’t stop looking at the TV. “It’s the news. Someone’s flown a plane into the World Trade Center.”
I couldn’t speak. I was born and raised in Upstate New York until I was thirteen years old. I’d been to New York City several times, and remembered the buildings. I sank into my seat. I could not picture, I could not fathom a plane flying into the buildings. The rest of the class filed in, and we all watched, dumbfounded, as the South Tower collapsed on itself and crumbled away.
We were numb. We didn’t talk. Normally when we watched a movie in class the kids took advantage of the teacher’s distraction and talked to each other, or passed notes. I liked history, but even I wasn’t above writing my book during class if it was a slow day.
But we couldn’t. We just watched the news, the endless loop the stations were playing of the planes flying into the buildings, the buildings crashing, the news about the pentagon. I wasn’t thinking about the irony of seeing something like this in history class. I wasn’t thinking that I was literally living through a momentous moment in history. I wasn’t thinking about the eventual backlash the Muslim community would receive when the news broke that it was al-Qaeda terrorists. We just watched and waited, holding our breath to see what would happen next.
For people who were born after this time, who grew up hearing references about 9/11, I can’t express to you the feeling of utter loss, of innocence gone. We were soft and assured in our Americanness that wars happened, but they didn’t happen here. There was strife and poverty, and guns blazing in the streets, but that all happened far away from here. This was America after all.
By next period, the school had instructed teachers to turn off their TVs, but that didn’t stop the kids from panicking and worrying. This was before four year olds had cellphones, so it wasn’t like we were all calling or texting our parents to find out what was up. To make matters worse, Delta had a major hub in Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, and a good chunk of students had family members working for the airlines. Kids were frantically trying to figure out if loved ones were affected or hurt by the airline breech, let alone kids with families in New York City.
This was two years after Columbine, so the school went right to lock down. We sat and waited, while teachers vainly attempted to resume classes, as if anyone would be able to pay attention that day. We went home, and assessed the damage. Living in Georgia, most of our tragedies was the shared tragedy of the nation. Little by little, the stories came out, about the heroics on the airplanes, about people who were supposed to be in the World Trade Center but weren’t or vice versa. We started tallying up all that we had lost.
We’re still counting that cost.
Every year there’s an outpouring of remembering, and it’s more than I can handle. It’s just too much, the grief is tangling up with my frustration over how events are still playing out, the war that keeps going, the people that keep dying, using such a horrible thing as justification to increase the invasion of our privacy. It seems like there’s no way to just express grief over a tragedy without it turning into a nightmare political debate about the ends justifying the means.
So today I choose the honor the dead, and the people who’ve suffered under the banner of “freedom”, but away from Facebook and other avenues where nuance is a lost cause.