Several times today I was going to write this post and then got distracted. I guess part of me still doesn’t want to revisit that day.
I have always been intrigued by how we can remember certain days, even minutes, so succinctly, but we can’t remember what we had for lunch the day before. So it is for me with September 11th.
My day began like any other. My clock radio went off and I heard the news. As I lay there half groggy, my brain was trying to figure out what the reporter was talking about. An explosion? The Pentagon? As I lay that I could not grasp what they were telling me. I couldn’t remember what the Pentagon looked like.
I walked out into the kitchen and my Dad had the TV on. When he went to get the newspaper the neighbor across the street had told him what had happened. I remember staring with that sick to my stomach feeling. It wasn’t just the Pentagon, but the Twin Towers, and there was a plane crashed somewhere. The dog needed breakfast and I could not move.
I felt like I was sleep walking that day. I can still remember sitting on the backyard swing feeling that emotional pain. The radio kept playing “God Bless America” at every commercial break. It became intertwined with my feeling of grief. By the next day, I felt like I never wanted to hear that song ever again.
It was incredibly difficult to grasp that human beings had done this to each other. It was even more incredibly to grasp the fact that my daily life kept going and that I was supposed to participate in it. I remember that was the week I was going to start babysitting my niece two days a week. How could I deal with a child when I felt such pain?
I remember making the conscious decision that I needed to be there for her. As an adult in her life, I needed to find a way to deal so that she would know there was continuity and strength around her. I decided not to watch any news coverage until the weekend. I did not want to be so depressed that I could not play with her.
It was really strange the day she came over. It is weird how you can be two things at once. I was so sad for those who had perished and those who would find out their loved ones were not coming home. Yet, I was on the floor playing Candyland and building card houses as if nothing had happened.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table waiting for her to ask me about the tragedy. I had no idea how I would explain to a five year old that sometimes humans do horrible things. As we were sitting there eating our snack she looked at me and said “Something really sad happened this week.” I looked at her bracing myself for the questions that were sure to come. Then she went on, “At school, one of the butterflies died before it came out of the cocoon.” I may have burst with relief. She did not know what had happened or was too young to process it. In her kindergarten world, the butterfly’s death had all meaning. It was at this point that I knew somehow we would get through this thing, as individuals and as a nation, because we needed to be there for the children. They needed to know that life would go on and that was our job as the adults. I only wished that butterflies were the only thing she would ever have to worry about.
I knew that eventually I would have to deal with 9/11. I had avoided the TV all week so I could be with my niece without scaring her. But, I knew from experience I had to see the images and hear the stories to start my own healing. I spent almost all weekend glued to the TV. I saw the burning towers and the Pentagon. I heard First Responders and those who survived tell their stories. I remember the posting of names as bodies were identified and as some of the missing were found to be alive. It was terrible to see all this unfold, but I had to go through it. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have gotten passed it.
Now 11 years have gone by. I still remember that brief period in time as if it were yesterday. The wounds for us as a people are still there. Sure, it was scary for many weeks and months after. But, we didn’t let that fear overcome us. We conquered it and we shook our fists at the terrorists. We found out that they may have taken innocent lives but they couldn’t take our souls. We still had our spirit as a nation and our resolve. They can never take those away from us unless we let them. And, we won’t let them.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com