My dad, just a little boy, remembers walking down a street in California with my grandfather in the fall of 1963. Grandpa stopped to watch a TV through a barbershop/store window. So Dad climbed a tree there. He spent a good long time in that tree playing, no doubt scaling up and down, swinging from it, leaping to the ground. Grandpa, along with a growing crowd of people on the sidewalk, was fully absorbed in the television screen and in what a TV anchorman was telling the nation: John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, had been shot.
I've always compared 9/11 to the assassination of JFK in relation to its enormous impact on the American psyche, and I've always felt that was apt. In the local newspaper this week, I've read it compared to Pearl Harbor, and that seemed more fitting when one reflects on the loss of life. Nevertheless, just as my dad remembers exactly where he was, what he did, the silence that seemed to pervade everywhere and the shock and strain in my grandfather's face, so I remember what I was doing when I got the phone call from my husband on the morning of 9/11, telling me in a strained tone that something bizarre was going on in New York, something about a plane crash. He told me to turn on the radio (we had no television). Later, he would tell me he wanted me to go spend the day with my sister Annie, to be safe.
We were in Texas, thousands of miles away from the attacks that took place in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania, but like most of our fellow Americans, we felt real fear about what might be coming next. Like our fellow Americans, we felt ill when we saw the second place hit. We were heartbroken when we saw the images of terrified people fleeing through the streets of our nation's most vibrant city, covered with gray dust, and we turned away from the footage of those who had no chance jumping out of The World Trade Center's windows. Like many in this strong nation, we had to eventually turn off the television, emotionally exhausted and soul sick, our worldview forever altered. We spent the day calling family and friends to make sure they were fine, to share our disbelief and to say, I love you.
I have spent the week of this 10th anniversary of the attacks with tears while reading personal stories from firefighters, law enforcement, family who lost loved ones, and teachers who try to convey to their young students the emotions from that day that still grip me when I dwell on the loss of life, the horror, the permanent loss of innocence, the valor of the first responders in New York who lost their lives when the towers fell, and the heroic actions of those on board Flight 93 when they prevented that fourth plane from crashing into the Capitol Building ("Let's roll!" - that simple phrase now inspires patriotic pride and immense gratitude).
This morning, I turned on my TV to listen to the names of those who passed away being read by their friends, siblings, spouses, parents, colleagues and children. My son gave me a huge hug when he saw my emotion rising again as I pointed out to him where the two towers had stood. When all Phoenix's local stations abandoned the reading of the names at the memorial before they were even halfway through the list of the 2,977 lost, I was angry. Did they think we were too fickle to listen for the hours necessary for this memorial? I tried to tell my husband that I thought they should let all the names be read on air; there could be no better tribute on this day, and commentary is superfluous, but I choked up. He embraced me and said, "We're thinking the same thing, Baby."
Yesterday, I marked this anniversary with my family, going to Tempe Beach Park in Arizona where they have an American flag standing in honor of each victim and yellow ribbons for each first responder who perished. I did not lose a loved one on 9/11. Still, all Americans lost a great deal that day, and 9/11 will never cease to be vastly important to me. I hope that my children can someday understand why.
It's just too big a moment in all our lives. Even if you're not American, everyone became an American that day - Bono of U2.
Thank you to all the people of many nations who feel the same and stand with America today.
I read a few years ago that Americans have the most national pride of any nation in the world based on their vigorous display of America's symbols. I would like to think this is true. Looking at a sea of red, white and blue flags on this September 11th, 2011, I believe it.
The Healing Field