Friday, September 13, 2013

September 11

Photo added on 9/11/2014

I know, today is the thirteenth. I'm a (couple) day(s) late and a dollar short. But see, the thing is, everyone deals with the stuff that life throws at you in a different way. And for me, I hate to dwell on 9/11 as a rule. There are reasons for it. Good reasons. The primary of which is that I was a wreck in the immediate aftermath. My husband worked for a defense contractor at the time (he was also only my boyfriend then) and I was worried for him. Not to mention all the general fears that come with an event like that. I spent hours of every day obsessively looking at websites, watching Peter Jennings (RIP) and generally just freaking out a little at a time. I know I'm not unique and I didn't lose anyone that day. Well, I did, but not to terrorists. My dad's stepmom died on 9/11. Cirrhosis finally killed her after years of being an alcoholic. Yeah, it was awkward to tell people that I had to take bereavement that week. Sure, it was sad that she died, but compared to how other people suffered that same day, well, it felt sort of pathetic.

9/11 is one of those days, like Pearl Harbor for our grandparents or the day JFK was shot for our parents, that people of our generation will forever remember. And this is the first year I've had a blog, so I've never really posted my story before. This will probably be the one and only time I do it because, like I said, I don't like to dwell on it too much. Similar to my last post, about the hope that lives inside The Hunger Games Trilogy, I like to live my life in a glass half full sort of way. And thinking about that awful day over and over again isn't what makes me remember. It's the people who survived, the people who endured, the people who stood up and didn't just take it.

But I have a story, so here it is.

It was my first official year out of college. Yes, if you know my life story or part of it, you know I was in college for a while, that I got two degrees. But 2001 was the year I started my first real job that used my degree. I was a peon, and I worked in Portland, so I had to deal with traffic on my way to work. I realized pretty quickly that if I went in for 8am, I always sat in traffic. Since I didn't have enough work to warrant early days, I usually pushed my schedule to 9am instead and skirted the worst of the rush hour.

But on 9/11/01, I went to work early. I was on a team that worked with a developer who planned to make a golf course out of a former landfill. This property happened to be across the river from Manhattan. We had a team on site doing soil testing. There were two staff people from our company's New Jersey office on site. One was on the drill rig, the other was at the office for our conference call. My co-worker, Gina and I, were sitting in the conference room with Jeff, discussing the project, when he said that Jennifer had just called from the rig and said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. She'd actually been able to see it from where she sat. We were shocked, but it's NYC. If you've ever flown through that airspace, you know how crowded it is. We'd all flown through there, had all experienced the annoyance that came with sitting on the tarmac at Newark or had flight delays at JFK, LaGuardia or Philly. We thought, okay, a small plane hit the tower. Sucks, but it's bound to happen one of these days in that airspace. Gina was freaking a little, but only because she was due to leave on 9/13 for a trip to Italy. She'd be flying through New York to get there and you couldn't blame her for thinking, "Crap! I've got to get on a plane in a couple days in that area!" But we went on with our meeting and that was that.

In the time it took for us to finish that call and then have our discussion about the project, the second plane hit. I worked with a bunch of NPR junkies and they were actually listening on the radio, loud enough for everyone to hear, in the office around the cube wall from my desk. When I asked what they were discussing, everyone said that a plane had hit the WTC. I replied, "Yeah, Jennifer saw it hit. Freaky accident, huh?" No, people said, there was a second plane. "That wasn't an accident," I said. No, it was not.

From that moment on, I spent hours combing sites, trying desperately to learn what was happening. Everything was bogged down with internet traffic. The one place I could go? My soap opera message board. They were the only ones who could still post. People on the ground were relaying information, were helping the rest of us stuck at work, those of us who didn't have a radio or access to a TV.

I couldn't get in touch with my boyfriend. He worked, as I said, at a defense contractor and they were on lockdown. At the time, we didn't have cell phones. I didn't call him at work; if we talked, it was in the evening. It was the longest day of my life, at that point, as I waited for him to call me. Know what else I didn't have? Cable. Thank God for ABC News and the amazing Peter Jennings, because I couldn't have asked for a better way to hear the news. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about the emotion he conveyed while remaining calm. He felt it, the tragedy, along with all of us. And yet, like a loving parent, he helped soothe our fears while he gave us the truth.

That's what I remember about that day. It's what I always recall, the shock, the fear, the relief when I finally spoke to my beloved. That day changed our lives, changed the life of everyone we know. And it's important not to forget, to do our best to avoid the mistakes we made that led to that day and to work hard to teach our children how to make the world a better place, a place where things like 9/11 don't happen.

The biggest reason why I don't dwell on it? Because I'm a mother. And in order to function in this world, in order to be a parent, I can't sit around and be the girl who wallowed for days about the tragedy. Instead, I have to be the strong person who rises above it and lives my life. The girl who wallowed, that's what those people wanted. They wanted to tear us down. And I don't want to let them. So I don't dwell. I respect the rights of other people to observe the day however they wish. That's what we do in this country, we respect the rights of others. We promote freedom.

And I'm exercising my freedom to tell you all that this is probably the only thing you'll ever hear from me about 9/11. If I'm not re-tweeting your sentiments or sharing your images, it's not that I don't respect it or that I don't think it's important to remember. Like Valentine's Day, it's important to think about what the day means every day, not just the one day each year.

And so if you want to truly appreciate the magnitude of the event, visit the 9/11 Memorial. We did last year, with our children, before it was even complete, on a gorgeous, spring day. When you see the holes in the ground, when you contemplate the size of the buildings that went down that day and the number of lives taken from us, you'll get a real sense of the loss. It was humbling and powerful and I'd highly recommend going. I think you'll be glad you did. I know I am.

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