Saturday, September 11, 2010

Deliberately preserving a memory

I just spent some time viewing images and videos from September 11. Yes, it was upsetting. Yes, it made me feel ill; it always does. Yes, once again Google has failed to observe this day in any way, even though they celebrated the invention of a toy recently, and a somewhat obscure artist's birthday, and all sorts of wishy-washy, grey events that offend no one. Pansies.

I remember being at work that day. In the kitchen at the office, which was always crowded on Tuesdays because, in the golden days, Tuesdays were "bagel days." The toaster got a workout, the butter and creamed cheese ended up smeared on the counter, and while we were milling and toasting and spreading fatty goodness, a co-worker stepped in from the back door and announced that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

We were all stunned. At first, people thought it was a small plane, some clueless person, perhaps a pilot who'd suffered medical duress. And it went on. I remember when we heard about the second plane, saying to someone, "This is an attack." I knew it, then. No accident, no human illness had caused such damage. And again, it went on. More people hurt and killed. More flames and debris, paper and soot raining down on the streets of New York City, at the Pentagon. We all gathered in a back meeting room, someone found the old TV on a cart, and an intern acted as a human antennae so we could get a clear enough picture to view the screen without headaches—and the view was so clear that we watched the second plane hit the towers. The woman next to me gasped when it struck, inhaling with such horror that the sound represented every agonized soul in that room.

A friend called me when I was back at my desk for a brief moment; he was in some other, far-flung state. Texas? I can't even recall. He'd heard about the Shanksville plane before I did. He told me another one had gone down, not far from Pittsburgh. "What the hell is going on?" he asked me, aghast. I did not know. We hung up, and I found more updates confirming what he'd said. No one really knew what the hell was going on. We knew it was bad, very bad.

Another friend who sat across from my desk was frantically phoning her husband, a pilot. Who'd flown out that morning. Was he okay? Yes. It took many minutes, but she reached him. He'd had to fly back, or land somewhere unplanned. He was okay.

Should we stay at work? Should we go home? No one knew what to do. We were on the North Shore, not really downtown, and even though the folks in the heart of the city were evacuating, many of us were loathe to do the same for reasons we couldn't quite express. Was it fear? Many of us were young and single, living alone. Perhaps we glimpsed the terror and uncertainty that waited in our empty apartments. At the office, we were together, united, shocked as one. We knew, even then, that leaving that communal space and returning home meant hours and hours of watching the coverage, reliving the stomach-turning moment of those buildings imploding in a downward peeling motion. Most of us stuck around until mid-afternoon; nothing was accomplished.

Even in the days that followed, little was accomplished. Everything was changed. I remember walking to get lunch somewhere, and looking up at the beautiful, clear, empty skies. No planes, No air travel whatsoever. The vast blue was strangely silent, after years of constant airport and hospital traffic. It was eerie. It made me feel like hiding. Even when the skies reopened, I can remember rushing out to look when a plane sounded too close, an awful fear clamping down on me when anything looked remotely abnormal up there.

It will never be the same. I still cannot comprehend that sort of hatred. I found a little editorial that pretty much captures my feelings, so I will defer to this fine author and let my flag and my defiant Christianity say the rest. I know the Crusades happened, and were misguided and terrible; I'm sure those aren't the only negative examples of my Jesus-loving forefathers. However, I also know that the faith I follow today, the faith that predominantly built this nation, condemns heinous acts like those of nine years ago.

I encourage you to read this (below). And AGAIN I apologize for the non-link; please just copy and paste it in your browser. I think I need to switch servers, for many reasons.

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