When I was a little girl my teachers would instruct me to go home and ask my parents “Where were you when JFK was shot?” before that it was about Pearl Harbor. Nowadays children ask their parents about today.
My story is a little bipolar.
2001 was one of the worst years of my life. It was my first year as a college drop-out. It was one where I suffered terrific agonies, wrestled with one of the most intense moral dilemmas I’d ever faced, and lost one of the last pieces of innocence I still try so hard to cling to, and that was only by the start of the summer.
In a year of pain, darkness, and disappointment, however, there was one sliver of light. It wasn’t just that a light in the dark is the brightest you’ll ever see either. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever heard the soundtrack of my life screech to a record scratching stop. It was a literal cliche only experienced in Shakespearean tragedies, and romantic dramas. He was a waiter at the diner I was a regular at. He was new. He came busting through the swinging double doors of the kitchen, his blue eyes illuminating the path before him. In all my life I’ve been rendered speechless twice. This was the first time. The second was when I brought one of my friends to join me in gawking at him like a tourist attraction, and it turned out they knew each other. He stood there talking to her, cracking jokes, and laughing, catching up on old times, and all of my charisma, my entire ability to communicate, any vocabulary I may have possessed at one time, vanished into the deep blue orbs.
It’s far too complicated to describe the complexity of the relationship we had, the waiter and I, but for 11 weeks we met on Mondays, and fell in love, despite the circumstances that made doing so incredibly stupid.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. I know because I’d spent the previous night with my Monday. We were in a hotel room near the beach. The news was on, telling us about Hurricane Erin off the coast, and Michael Jordan’s return to basketball. We’d even taken a walk on the beach, to watch the surfers trying to take advantage of the waves the storm was bringing in. He dropped me off at my door just before the first plane hit. I turned off my phone, and fell into a deep sleep.
Around 2:00 PM I was scared awake by a banging on the window in my room. It was my best friend at the time panicked, and trembling. When I opened the front door, her words to me were, “America is being attacked.”
I’m not ashamed to say that I grabbed my phone, my shoes, and my purse and yelled, “Let’s get the fuck out of here and drive west.” Somehow I’d decided that the Mid West would be the safest place to be should war break out. I figured my family would meet me out there. I’m a survivor. I thought only of survival in that split second.
She calmed me down, and pushed through the door into my parents’ house. “Turn on the television.” She told me.
“What channel?” I asked.
“I’m not sure it matters.” She replied.
I think we can all remember the images being replayed that day. The impossible collapse of the buildings. The nausea that swept over us when we thought about how many people were in them. The flecks of debris falling from the windows, which, on closer inspection were actually people.
I didn’t believe it. My first instincts were that this was some kind of sick, War of the Worlds type hoax. Didn’t my Dad work in the trade center once? Wasn’t my brother on a flight from Boston to San Fransico today? Did they say the other plane crashed in Pennyslvania? My other brother lives in Pennsylvania. Holy shit, I told my mother I was going into the city last night.
The telephone lines were hard to get through, but eventually I got through to my Mom to assure her that I was, in fact, alive, well, and safe. My eldest brother was already accounted for, but my middle brother hadn’t been located yet. However, the plane had crashed far from him, so he was probably fine. No, we had no one in the towers.
I still didn’t believe it. My heart was still high from my Monday night. How could I have experienced something so beautiful as a Monday, and then have something like this happen? I insisted my friend drive me to the beach to see the skyline for myself.
I ruminated over the conflicting whirlwind of emotions rushing through me. The exhilaration of the heady love of my life, and the eery silence in the skies devoid of airplanes for the first time since I could remember. I imagined the husbands and wives, sons and daughters who kissed goodbye that morning, not knowing the tragedy the day would bring. I thought about the people who called in sick that day, and those who wanted to, but didn’t. Later we would be glued to the televisions, hearing accounts, watching footage of heroes running in while most people ran out. I’ll never forget the innocence we, as a country, lost that day. The feeling that we were safe would forever be marred as we were bombarded with color coded alerts. Orange. Yellow. Red.
The flags. I’ll never forget how the streets would become lined with Old Glory, and how my heart would lift. Wounded, but not defeated.
It was a beautiful day. The sun shone brightly. The sky was cloudless. The view across the bay was crystal. Children played along the water, as dark plumes of smoke scored the once beautiful skyline highlighting the empty space where they towers once heralded a welcome, and evoked that quintessential feeling of inspiration you’d get upon entering the city. It was the children though, that emblazoned themselves in my memory.
The children who played merrily oblivious to the changes the future would hold for us all. And that…that moment…it changed me. It forced me to see that even in the darkest hours, somewhere there is a child laughing for the first time. A couple falling in love. A first word, a first step. For every sadness, there is a happiness.
September 11th was a day our country was attacked. We were wounded. Lives, innocent lives, were stolen away. A landmark was destroyed. A nation fell into the clutches of fear…but let’s not forget September 12th, or 13th. We did not cower. We did not hide. We turned to one another and reaffirmed our commitments to one another. People were kinder. The dust settled, and our flag was still there.
My year didn’t get any better. In the months that followed I lost my Monday to my own cowardice, and my Grandmother to heaven. I tried to join the Airforce, but I was disqualified for my vision. But the memories of 9/11 never faded. I never gave up. I never stopped trying. I never forgot that each day, no matter how terrible, was still a gift that I had that so many other had lost that day. Just like our country, I persevered. I won my chances. It may have taken 6 years, but I eventually got my Monday back, and married him. Just because there is pain, and loss, doesn’t mean that it will always be so.
Instead of remembering the pain of this day, today, I’d like to challenge us all to remember the strength of our nation. I’d like us to remember September 11th as the day they tried to beat us, and failed. I’d like us to remember the children, playing along the shoreline, and not forget that we are Americans. We are resilient. We are survivors. We are the hand other countries reach for in their times of trouble, and let us be the shining example that calmly tells the world, no matter what, our colors don’t run.
So why not let the guy into your lane today, instead of rushing up to keep him from cutting you off? Why not drop that dollar into the coffee cup today? Why not make today a day where we show the world that we are as exceptional as the President says we are. What random act of kindness will you perform today?