It has been 16 years.
How has it been 16 years?
When I woke up this morning, roused from my slumber by little hands poking at me, I checked my phone, saw the date, and felt the familiar pit in my stomach as I read the words “Monday, September 11″ on my iPhone’s home screen.
I can’t believe how much has changed since I first wrote about 9/11 as the mother of a new baby girl. How much has changed in my life; in my family; in this world.
The thing that strikes me the most is that everyone I know has a 9/11 story. Some are profound; some are sad; some involve extreme loss & grief; some are bittersweet; some are quieter; all are vivid. It is the one thing that connects our generation in a way that nothing else (that I have found) really does. In the past 16 years, I have been in so many situations in which someone started a conversation about where they were on 9/11/2001 and, inevitably, all social boundaries have disappeared and the (sometimes disparate) group has united with this common shared history. Once, it happened to me at an edgy, downtown hair salon where everyone was covered in tattoos, no one else had non-rainbow-hued hair and yet, once the subject was broached, we were all the same. It has happened to me in doctor’s offices (“I was performing a surgery when…”), college classrooms and in countries all across the world.
Here is my 9/11 story, completely oversimplified and confined to that one day. It does not include historical data, what I have learned since that day or how this impacts our lives today. It is a snapshot in time. We all have a story. Here is mine:
On 9/11/2001, I woke up thinking, “This is going to be a good day.”
My lucky number is 11, and so I can remember, so vividly, feeling embraced by the comfort of that date.
I was a Junior in High School.
It was picture day.
I was in the big, open hall outside of my school’s auditorium, on a small break between having my photo taken and needing to go to choir class, when I heard the news.
The principal made an announcement over the loudspeaker, explaining that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and that another had hit the other tower soon thereafter. These were the days before smartphones (thank goodness) but I did have a small flip phone, which I used to call my mom.
“Do you think that they will ever be able to find out who did this?” I remember asking her, so terrified.
My thought process was literally this (which shows how innocent–perhaps naive–I was at the time): I hoped that there would be some way to identify the bodies of the people who had been flying the hijacked planes so that we would make sure to know who had done this to us.
My mom agreed to pick me up early, but first I had to go to Spanish class. I just sat there in my seat, my eyes glued to the bright blue sky, praying that I would not see a plane in the air. I had heard that all planes had been grounded, and so if I saw a plane flying, that would mean that another attack was imminent.
My mom picked me up from school in her SUV and I had lunch on the couch in my den, in front of the television. I had caramel flavored yogurt and cereal. I accompanied my mom to a hair appointment. We picked up my sister from Middle School. My dad came home from work. I watched, from the tv in my bedroom, as President Bush stood and spoke in front of an American Flag and announced that we, as a country, would fight those who attacked us and that we would prevail. I watched, and I cried.
My husband has a different 9/11 story. He was a Sophomore at George Washington University and was sleeping in. He was awakened by a loud booming sound, almost like a giant thunderclap, as his room shook. This, he later learned, was from the plane hitting the Pentagon.
I know how terrified he was, hearing the news that there was a 4th plane headed towards the Capitol. I know that he could not reach his mom via cell and so she wisely got in touch with him over AIM. I think of her today; how she had her own 9/11 story and how I wish I had asked her more about it once I became a mom, myself.
I was on a conference call earlier today, and, before we began our work, we all took a moment of silence to reflect on the weight of today. We each have our own 9/11 stories, and though I did not ask today, perhaps someday I will.
We cannot ever take back the events of that horrific day. We cannot change history. But, what we can do, is to change the future. And, in doing so, our stories will also be different. For some, it will be the choice to fight for our country directly. For others, it will be fighting for our country with our words. Some of us will educate our children; perhaps this will be the first year that they hear about 9/11 in school and so we will be forced to tell them the story of one of the worst days that any of us can ever remember. Some of us will make donations. Some of us will make phone calls.
And, some of us will use today as a sobering reminder to cherish each moment, hold our loved ones close to us and to count our blessings, as they are abundant.
And then, we will each have a new story.
The story of how we prevailed. We will never forget, but we will grow.
It is time for me to start to write my new story. I look forward to hearing yours.
All my love