Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11 The Personal War

It's four years later. Four years that we are supposed to have healed and grown away from the multitude of feelings that we felt on 9/11. It's called the healing process.

In four years, through personal tragedies and triumphs, nothing has ever felt like that day nor the days since.

Some say that 9/11 changed everything, changed America. I don't know if that is true, but it did change me. Before that day, it was as if I was only me, though connected to family and friends, while claiming to be an American and thinking I knew what that meant, I really never understood.

In wasn't that I lost my innocence on that day, but that I lost my trust in a world I had imagined was changing. I had dreamed the impossible dream and it was shattered that day. Since then, I have found myself re-evaluating all the things I thought I knew or understood. I found the world was changing, but it wasn't in that fuzzy, ephemeral way, far away from me. It was up close and personal.

Every day since then has not made it farther away or easier to remember. I still cry on September 11. Maybe I'm not supposed to say that. Maybe that means I haven't "healed" or found "closure" whatever that means. Maybe that is strange for somebody to say when I knew no one who died.

Yet, I felt like I knew them. They were more than just faces or fellow citizens. They were me. They were the unfortunate ones to be in the buildings and planes that were targeted. I could have been them on a different day.

On most days, it's just a thought in the back of my mind, but on others I could play the whole day in my memory like a movie that never ends. Mostly, because it hasn't. We're still at war and unlike all the other small wars, this one was more than just an action by the country I live in. It was personal. Very personal.

On the day the war began, it was a beautiful September morning. I was wakened early by the bright sunlight coming through the drawn shades. It was so bright that I wanted to put a pillow over my head to block it out and go back to sleep. But a glance at the alarm clock told me that it was only a few moments before the alarm would go off so I decided to get up anyway. I had the house to myself. My parents were away on vacation. I'd been living with them while I tried to find a house.

So, I threw back the covers, automatically reaching for my fluffy green robe and walking to the bathroom. I was thinking how much I was going to enjoy hogging the hot water that morning and I did. Twenty minutes of hot water further enjoyed because I was early and could waste a few more minutes. Getting out of the shower, I wrapped the towel around my head, put on the robe and brushed my teeth. Putting the brush in my pocket, I walked into the living room, found the remote and flipped on the TV to CNN. I tossed the remote into the easy chair and walked to the kitchen without really looking at the TV. The sound was down low as I walked into the kitchen looking for a can of coke. My morning caffiene. I didn't really do coffee back in those days.

I walked back to the living room and placed the coke on the table by the easy chair. Sitting down, I pulled the towel from my head and began to rub my hair dry. It was then that the images on the TV caught my attention. It was just the towers, one with a gaping hole, smoke billowing. The other was still untouched.

First, I thought it was a movie. In a few seconds, I had taken in the words streaming across the bottom of the screen: small plane reported to have hit the trade center. What? I fumbled for the remote and turned up the sound. The reporter was saying that they were waiting for confirmation, but first reports indicated a small commuter plane and flown into the building.

Oh my God! What a tragic accident. Of course, when they said "small plane" and "commuter plane", I was thinking a small jet that could hold 20 or so passengers. From the view of the towers, it was hard to tell how big the hole was. I couldn't understand the scale of the damage compared to the building. The reporter kept talking, basically repeating what they had already said and continuing to say that they were waiting for additional confirmation. Shortly after, they switched to cameras at the roof of the building where CNN was housed and I believe that Aaron Brown was standing there with a view of the towers behind him on his left, but on the right of my television screen.

Several minutes had gone by. I don't know how many, but I heard someone gasp and say, "there's another plane" just as the plane flew out of the left side of the screen, angling towards the building and crashed into the backside of the building that was away from the camera.

"OH MY GOD!" Was shouting in my head, but I said nothing. I know that I was sitting there with a towel in my hands, staring at the TV, slack jawed and nearly uncomprehending for 30 seconds. It was as if the world had gone silent. I couldn't hear what the reporters were saying. There was nothing but a buzzing sound that slowly faded away until the thoughts in my head and the words of the reporter echoed each other: terrorist attack.

We've been attacked! Oh my God! We've been attacked! Shit! Shit! Shit! What the hell? What are we going to do?

I sat there and listened, waiting to hear the rest of the reports. Obviously, the first reports had been wrong. The second tower strike, I had seen the plane, but I still couldn't tell the size of the plane. I couldn't understand the size.

The reports continued to come. More attacks. Get the planes down. The firemen and police were on the ground. Another plane might be hi-jacked. The tower is coming down, smoke billows up and covers the people who were running. I felt my heart pounding as I watched them run. A plane flew into the Pentagon. I was feeling more and more shocked as the time went on, but I also felt something else: really deep anger. It was welling up inside. I wanted to call somebody. Do something.

But I couldn't. It was the most helpless feeling that I had ever experienced. I have to admit, since that day, I've felt that many times: wanting to do something, but unable to do anything and it's bothered me ever since.

I don't have to retell that day. Most people remember the second tower falling, the reports from the Pentagon and the recordings of the voices from flight 93 who knew already that they would die. It was only a matter of how and when. I stayed watching the news until close to noon time before I drove down to the office. I noticed the sky was still electric blue with very few contrails tracing the sky. Everyone at the office was listening to the radio or trudging into the conference room to catch a few moments of the news while others kept their computer screens turned to streaming news. I went home as soon as I could to watch the news some more so that I would know what we were going to do. I wanted to know that we were now safe. I kept thinking that more attacks would come.

But they didn't.

I suppose that day stays imprinted on my mind because it ran the gamut of all human emotions: happy, shocked, fear, anguished and angry with a multitude of levels and emotions between. It stays with me because that day represents an entire range of all human activity:

To build soaring towers standing against all elements using advanced mathmatics, technologies and materials showing the unrivaled power of the human mind and spirit.

To utterly destroy, as only man can do, without feeling or regard, without compassion or compunction.

Bravery beyond ken as men and women found the courage to go where angels feared to tread, saving others without care for their own safety, not knowing what was ahead, but knowing they had to go on. And those that knew, who saw the first tower fall and realized that they had to get the others out. Others who's faces they had never seen, yet were precious to them for simply being humans. The ones that knew the fate of the other planes, but fought back, calling in those last minutes to say good-bye or to calm their loved ones.

Depravity beyond comprehension as men who had just been sitting in the passenger area, knowing that men and women, old and young, small children and grandparents were on board, having seen those people's faces, held them worthless along with the thousands of other lives, unknown and unseen, that they intended to end that day.

Grace as calls from the towers told loved ones good-bye or not to worry. Grace that overcomes men and women, knowing that they will die and deciding at the end that this last thing they can control, these last moments, as they jumped clear of the buildings, like silent gliding birds.

The roar of crashing steel and glass.
The deafening silence after.
The blue of a morning sky.
The grey dust and smoke of destruction.
The fear of pedestrians running before the cloud.
The compassion of strangers dragging people to safety, offering their arms for strength and their shirts as kerchiefs or tourniquets.
The joy of being alive.
The despair knowing friends and loved ones were gone.
Hope and anguish.

Once I was a simple citizen who knew nothing but the pleasure of living here, in a country, formed on an idea that I enjoyed yet barely understood. Then I finally understood "community" and "citizenship". I saw it defined on that day along with honor, duty and sacrifice. I've come to understand freedom and I finally understood tyranny.

I was no longer separate, but part of a whole and that whole had been attacked; wounded deeply and without remorse.

It was on that day that it became personal. Unknown by name and face to me, the dead and the survivors became my family. I finally saw their names and faces as thousands came into the streets with pictures and names, holding them up to the camera. I heard their stories in the days after.

We were united by more than tragedy. We were citizens. We were free. We were still here. We were still strong.

Several days later, as I walked with my nephews into a store in a strip mall, we noticed that one of the shops had been burned out. One nephew holding my hand tugged on it and asked me if a plane had flown into that building too and would we be safe when we went in. So I understood that tragedy and fear knew no age and it was now my job, not just to comfort them, but to protect them from all danger and fear.

Now every day, since that day, we have been at war. It will be the longest war in my lifetime; possibly the longest war known by our country. Every day I have never doubted the purpose of this war nor the outcome, though I have cried for the losses of more brave men and women, for those children who will not know their mother or father again except in pictures and stories. Since that day, the song "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes always evokes tears and remembrance of flagged draped coffins born by men in blue uniforms and white hats. The summer song of the crickets always reminds me of the sad sound of fireman's alarms echoing from the dusty silent streets.

Continuing this war, whether Afghanistan or Iraq, is not about those sacrifices. Though some have said that to pull back now would be to make their deaths in vain. They were not in vain and never will be. But this war is not about today or even the yesterday of a cloudless September morn. This is about tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. This is about the future that we choose to live in; the future that we will make.

This is about a Saturday after a terrible Tuesday, when two small boys asked me if they were safe and I promised them that they were and would be.

At the end of that terrible day, we were still standing. We unfurled the flags, lit our candles and sang songs of faith and devotion. And, burning hotter than those flames was anger, rage and righteous vengeance. Justice some call it; revenge say others. What ever it is, for some of us, a burning ember was placed in our hearts; an eternal flame that reminds us what we are and why we keep going.

It became personal.

That burning flame strengthens us when we despair, warms us in the cold night, lights the way when we feel lost and continues to forge the steel of our will. Like the phoenix, we rose from the ashes, born again to the call of an idea that had once languished behind a wall of complacency.

Now that wall is broken like the once impenetrable iron curtain, that which separated us is gone and we are inexplicably bound together, not just here within the shores of a free nation, but with events thousands of miles away where each triumph of freedom breaks away another stone in the wall allowing the fire in our hearts to burn more brightly and shine the light of the torch of liberty in every dark corner.

The fire in the minds of men was started by the flame of rememberance in our hearts.

We will never forget.

Previous 9/11 posts:

Changing Me
Blue Skies
First flight after 9/11
Why we Fight
Rudyard Kipling: Justice


GM Roper said...

Outstanding! I need say nothing more.

Barb said...

A wonderful post, Kat ... Thanks. The way that we (Americans) fit together must have always been there, but now we are so much more aware of it.

FbL said...

Yes, a wonderful post! I wish I could have said it as well as you did--you said it for me.

FbL said...

Oops! Forget to tell you that I linked to you (don't know how to trackback to your blog).

Kender said...

Wow....thank you Kat.

Boquisucio said...

Powerful Post K-MO.

Though I did not witness first hand the horrors of Lower Manhattan, I did experience first hand, plenty.

Being here in the DC Metro Region, we all personally witnessed those events first hand. I myself was waiting on a Red-Light, driving to work & listening to NPR, when the normal fluff news-segments were interrupted with the news that a "Small Plane" crashed into one of the Towers. It took me about 15 seconds to process-in the information. And recalled the Early Morning Weather Forecast, stating that the skies were crystal clear and calm from Maine to the Carolinas. As the Light was turning to Green, I concluded that it was not accidental. As the buzz on the radio surged in its urgency, and then Rather and Jennings burst in on the other FM Stations, my question turned to who could have done this and why. As I pull into our parking lot, the flash came in that a second plane hit the other tower.

Everything after that became a blur. With neither TV or radio I tried to log into the net, but was hopelessly jammed. Then someone from the office next door, yelled "One of the towers just collapsed"! My reaction was: "Impossible, yer sh**ting me". I was in denial and in the dark.

Coincidence would have it, that an important foreign agent was scheduled to visit us that day, and was my responsibility to pick him up at the Suburban Metro Station nearby. I get back in my car, only to hear Daniel Schorr say: "All is lost, Both Twin Towers are no more". That's when it all hit me. Life as I knew it would never be the same... More cachophony from the Radio: 767's,Pentagon hit, Bomb at the State Dept, Total Evacuation of DC's Center, More planes on their way....

The normaly empty Metro Station was jammed packed with commuters making a VERY early return commute back home. I pick-up the agent, and return back to the office. That's when we hear the deafening roar of fighter jets scrambling NW to a vector unknown. We then learn of another plane down somewhere in Penna. I finally connect with my hysterical bride, who reports that she was almost run over by SecretService SUV's and Cars scrambling mad towards downtown on their way from their TacticalOps Base in Beltsville, Md., and promplty berrated me for being at a Metro Station, where bombs were reputedly going off.

It became evident that no work was going to be done that day, we all called it a day and headed home in the late morning. Won't forget that column of smoke rising in the distance, accross the river, nor the feeling of siege felt by everyone....

Hugs, kisses and a good cry from a shocked bride, awaited me upon my return home.

Caoilfhionn said...

Amazing. Thanks, Kat. God Bless America.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, dear.

I watched the second tower go down real-time. As I tried to figure out what was happening, a voice in my head said "They can't win this." At the time, we were 180 million people, not many of whom would be willing to live with the worldview of whoever was doing this.

The unmistakeable message to me was that they themselves didn't have the weaponry to attack us directly.

Since then, I have tried to mitigate this war by insisting that we operate on good information. We will win, the only question is how soon, and at what cost.

I have been deeply surprised by the success this administration has had in its response, in its willingness to incorporate well-intended criticism during the Afghanistan campaign, and it's success in winning heart and minds in Iraq. But the biggest surprise of all was the spirited response of the Iraqi people. There is no lack of courage in Iraq, and their political and clerical leaders have demonstrated what is, to my mind, astonishing maturity, pragmatism, and good-will.

And then, the rest of the Mideast began to ask, "if the Iraqis can do it, why can't we?"

With the Iraqis as partners, (and with the help of many other people of good will) we are going to win this war, sooner rather than later. And, in the process, we may well wind up saving Islam, because the terrorist writings have to be eliminated from Islam, if Islam is to be a source of law for Iraq.

Now, isn't that a corker? Islam, saved by the (allegedly) secular US and the (formerly) secular Iraq? God is great. God is good. If my grandkids turn out to be muslim, it will be because we won.