Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11 - Ten Years Later

This summer I saw an airplane taking off, and I thought to myself, "I wonder where it is going."  And then I thought, "I wish I were on it."  And that's when I realized that for the first time in years, I didn't look at an airplane and think about it crashing.  Finally, ten years later,  the images of September 11, 2001 do not pop into my head at the slightest reminder.

My photo of the World Trade Center, 1988

How do you remember that day?  I remember the shock, and the horror of watching the twin towers fall.  I had lain on a bench on my back, trying to fit those two towers into a camera frame during a college trip years ago, and I couldn't imagine both of those buildings and all of those people being gone. When I heard about a plane hitting the Pentagon, I remember thinking "What is the next target?"

A certain quietness followed the morning of September 11.  We all went through the motions of normalcy.  My kids went to school.  We tried to function at home.  The television coverage was relentless and weirdly addicting as I watched for each new piece of information.

Photo taken September 2001

In the aftermath, numbness set in.  The skies were quiet.  It was so odd not to have airplane traffic anywhere.  We don't live in an airline flight path, so it is unusual for us to hear planes directly overhead, especially at night.  With U.S. airspace closed though, the thing I noticed was the sound of fighter jets going overhead in the dead of the night.  I was sad for the circumstances that made such flights necessary, but grateful to all those who were flying them.

Local businesses expressed compassion

I drove around my town and took some photos, trying to capture how a country pulled together in a crisis.  There were American flags everywhere. Patriotism emerged unabashed on business signs.  If anything good could come out of something terrible, it was this:  people spoke a little more softly.  They were more kind.

Flags, September 2001

I remember not being ready the day President Bush declared we should raise the flags from half-staff.  The time they were at half-staff was shorter than my mourning.  But I also remember thinking that as painful as it was, I was grateful someone encouraged us to look up, and keep going.

Two years later, my family and I went to a "Healing Field" of flags, and walked around.  It was something I needed.  There were flags for each person killed on 9/11, and also a field of international flags representing countries who had lost people during the wars that followed.  We purchased one of the flags in honor of Lt. Col. Anthony L. Sherman from Pennsylvania, age 43, who died in Kuwait in August 2003.  I don't know him, or his family, but honor him when we fly our flag.  I am grateful for his service and sacrifice.  The original Healing Field idea has spread, and there are many Healing Fields around the country this year for this 10th anniversary.  The original Healing Field is in Sandy, Utah.  They will be unveiling statues of firemen this Saturday, September 10, 2011.

Healing Field - Sandy, Utah - September 2003

How are you going to mark this tenth anniversary?  Are you going to watch any of the television coverage?  I have mixed feelings about that.  To be honest, I saw more than enough coverage during the actual events.  But my children were young, and we shielded them from as much of the television coverage as possible.  I asked them if they would like to watch any of the anniversary specials, and they are interested.  My youngest said the events of 9/11 are something everyone remembers but him, and he would like to know more.  So, maybe now that they are older, a little exposure on the anniversary would be appropriate, to help them understand the scope and impact of that day.

Healing Field - September 2003

I read two good books following 9/11 that were connected with that day. They are compelling stories of events immediately following the terrorist attacks:  one about a town on the outside looking in, and one about a man in the thick of it all trying to survive.  The first book,  titled "The Day the World Came to Town" by Jim Defede, tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 jetliners were re-routed when they couldn't land in the United States.  About 6,000 passengers who couldn't get home descended on the small town of Gander, and the town rallied and took them in.  Be thankful for good neighbors to the north.

The other book is about Howard Lutnick, who in his own grief and trauma, worked frantically to see if any of his Cantor Fitzgerald employees survived, and also to see if he could keep a company that had suffered a devastating blow afloat.  If Cantor Fitzgerald failed, Lutnick knew he could not help any of the families who had lost loved ones, and Cantor Fitzgerald lost more personnel in that horrifying terrorist attack than any other company.  This book is titled "On Top of the World"  Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11:  a Story of Loss and Renewal."  If you have not read these books, I highly recommend them.

Now, ten years later, there are new books to read.  Some highlighted in our local newspaper include A Decade of Hope by Dennis Smith and Deirdre Smith (Viking);  By the Grace of God by Jean Potter with Rob Kaplan (Author House); and The Legacy Letters by Brian Curtis (Berkeley Publishing Group).    A Decade of Hope is a collection of 25 personal accounts of those who witnessed attacks at the World Trade Center.  By the Grace of God is a first hand account of a woman who escaped from the 81st floor of the North Tower.  The Legacy Letters is a project compiled by a non-profit agency and gives insights into the lives of those who were lost that day through letters written by those who knew them.

As we mark the tenth anniversary of events that changed not only the New York City skyline, but our mental horizons as well, fly your flag, be kind to your neighbor, and embrace all that is good in this country.

God bless America.

1 comment: