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  • Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Remembering 9/11

    (Please forgive/indulge this stream of consciousness. I'm just spilling out thoughts from my brain. And if you've had your fill of drippy already today, just skip this.)

    I'm lucky. I live and work in DC and have lived and worked in Manhattan and yet none of my friends or family were hurt on September 11th. None were in any of the planes, nor where the planes hit.

    But I have many, many friends who have literal near-miss stories like "I hit the snooze twice that morning and was running unusually late. But for my laziness, I would have been on the 95th floor of the first tower instead of in the lobby..." and "The courier was late delivering the papers for our meeting. As the 'low man on the totem pole', I had to stick around the office to wait for them to show up while the rest of the team went over to the Pentagon. They were in the exact section that was hit. They were all killed. I'm alive because a courier didn't deliver."

    Amazing to think how one small decision such as hitting the snooze an extra time can have dire consequences. Right place, right time... or wrong place, wrong time kinda thing. As with much of life.

    I know I am lucky. None of my friends or family died. Like many -- especially those who live on the East coast -- I know people who lost loved ones and colleagues and neighbors. Friends of friends perished, but my immediate circle was unscathed. And I am thankful.

    But, as with most Americans, 9/11 affected me in a deeply personal way, even though I was not physically affected. We all witnessed it, whether we were in DC or NYC or LA or DFW. And I think that because we all saw it play out on TV that we all felt the attack very personally.

    I remember that Tuesday morning very well. I had been on a two-week trip to Israel and South Africa and had flown back via Switzerland the Sunday before. I had worked on Monday but was still jetlagged so I decided to head into the office late on Tuesday. I never made it to my office, which was three blocks from the White House. I saw the planes hit the World Trade Center, and I knew I wouldn't be going to work. But for most everyone else -- including my family -- the work day was well underway at that point. In DC. My brother at the World Bank (very close to the White House), my boyfriend on the Hill, my mother at the EPA... all potential targets, or at least, in the zone. Task one was to try and track them down and make sure they were okay. And let them know I was okay. And even though the cell systems were jammed, it didn't take too long to find my brother. He was driving to the office. He saw the plumes of black smoke rise out of the Pentagon. The Capitol had been evacuated, and my boyfriend was fine. My mom worked in a different part of DC and was still in the office when I spoke to her. But she too was going home. They, at least, were okay.

    And then there was my father.

    I knew he was going to Chicago that day. But I didn't know any details. I assumed he was flying. Omigawd. I didn't know where he was. And everyone else was doing the same family inventory that I was, so I couldn't get through on the cell phone. Not right away, anyway. Worst case scenario, I figured he was delayed in an airport somewhere or that his plane was brought down somewhere over Ohio or something. But even assuming the worst, far worse was not knowing where he was at all. What if I was wrong, and he was on a different plane? I didn't panic, but in this kind of situation, your brain gets extra creative. The last thing I wanted was to invent completely ridiculous possibilities and "what if"s.

    Turns out he was driving. Driving to Chicago from Washington, DC. Who does that? My dad. Thank goodness. And didn't know about the attacks until he got a call from my boyfriend who was trying to check up on me (my dad and I had switched cell phones for my trip because his worked internationally and we hadn't yet traded back). I remember speaking to my father after the towers fell and his gasping with shock and saying "That's an act of war." It's a really scary thing when your parents are alarmed. That frightened me.

    On September 11th, I did little more than witness the terror and tragedy of that day. I saw the horrific images on TV and was glued to it for hours on end. I don't know why, but I couldn't stop watching. I think that I somehow felt that if I turned off the television then I would somehow be disrespectful or callous. That looking away would be a sign that I didn't comprehend the significance of what was going on or that I didn't care what was happening. That watching and witnessing the day's events was my contribution of moral support for those directly affected. I don't know. Something like that.

    In fact, I didn't leave my house at all, even though I was out in the 'burbs and in no danger, real or perceived. I have never been so numb and yet cried so much -- nor watched as much television -- as I did that day five years ago. I was truly traumatized by the events of 9/11. I still can't watch the images on TV now without bursting into tears.

    Having scoffed at others' concerns about safety during my trip to Israel with all of the suicide bombers and in Jo-burg with all the crime, I remember thinking how ironic it was that the terrorism hit me at home.

    And five years later? I'm still sad. Sad at the loss of life and innocence and freedom. Sad at how a national tragedy has been politicized, domestically and internationally. Sad that some have suggested that we arrogant Americans somehow deserved "it", to be taken down a notch in this manner. Sad that many have co-opted the word "patriotism" and added an ugly flavor that shouldn't be there by using it to mean something more akin to "fanatical nationalism" through the use of scare tactics and by preying on our fears in the name of "security". Sad that the numbers 911 are twisted in our collective memories, at least for a generation or so. Sad that my friend Joy and a few others who share their birthdays with this anniversary have this black cloud over their special day.

    But five years later, I would like to try to reclaim 9/11 as September 11th, the day after September 10th and before September 12th. Of course, no one will forget what happened five years ago. But I'd like to take the "ouch" out of the date and the numbers 911. If that makes any sense.

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