Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 9/11 Fifteen Years Later

    Normally I would not write about an event like this unless it was connected to some type of art event. However, given that it is 15 years later, it seems like something should be written to help remember that time in our country. My perspective is one of a person who was all the way on the west coast of the US in California. Despite that particular fact, that day and time period in general remains firmly etched in my memory. This was event that touched us all, regardless of where we lived in the US.
    I am sitting here watching the series of productions recounting that day on the history channel, and the memories come rushing back as if it was just yesterday I watched the TV and what was being recounted about what was unfolding on the east coast of the US. Ironically, someone called and woke me up and told me about what was happening. I was still asleep because it was between 6-7 in the morning in California. I turn on the TV and I could not believe what I was seeing on the screen. It was unreal. After watching for a few minutes, the news reports another plan hit the WTC. The surreal image of the plane hitting the WTC was beyond any concept of reality that I had believed possible.
    At some point I remember hearing reports about planes hitting the Pentagon and another one crashing into a field. My thought, after putting all of the news together, was that the US was under attack. In spite of all this news, I still had to report to work, which was at a middle school where I was an instructional assistant while I was finishing my master's thesis. Obviously, all the teachers at the school felt the weight of what they had all seen that morning. Conversation about the event dominated the lunchroom. People had varying degrees of responses. I remember on teacher was a veteran and he mentioned that he was listening to the pledge of allegiance he started to tear up, saying it had new meaning for him in light of what had just happened. The teacher I worked with, he wanted to be sure to keep the TV off in order to shield the kids from the traumatic news. In the art class, the teacher had the students draw out what they were thinking and feeling. Needless to say, I saw a lot of images that were moving. One image that has stuck with me is a drawing that showed a plane flying into the two towers. Even 3,000 miles away, the  news of what was happening in NYC was traumatic for all age groups. It was clear that there was no escaping the emotional repercussions of this event.
    After the initial shock of the morning, most of my memories of the event and how people reacted to it blended together . All of the following hours, days, and weeks move together as if they are being pushed by a swirling wind from that time period.  Sobering would be a word that could capture an undefined period of time after 9/11. You could not turn anywhere or talk to anyone without the subject coming up daily...and that would be for months afterwards. It was an event that helped redefine our nation. The news, TV, classmates, coworkers, people at church, and everywhere else that you turned you could find the topic as a point of discussion.
    Even today, 15 years later, it still dominates our dialogues one day each year. For me, at the time, I compared it to what I had read about with Pearl Harbor. It is as if we had made Pearl Harbor a national holiday, but instead it seems like, today, that 9/11 has nearly become a national holiday. It has not been named one as yet, but the recognition is there just like it is on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day. My mother would tell me she could always remember where she was the day Kennedy was shot. There are just moments in history that stand out for each person on a personal level. It is as if there is a marker that is dropped on you to help place in time at that moment because it is so important. I have two times like that. I remember where I was when I heard that President Reagan had been shot. Even more vividly, I remember where I was for most of that day when I heard about what happened on 9/11. These moments in time are rather inescapable from our memories. Sometimes what does escape our memories is the aftermath on a day-to-day level.
    I commuted for 2 years to work from 2002-2004. I drove 2 hours per day and I used to listen to NPR and hear about the war in Iraq every day. I listened to endless analysis of military strategies, political bickering, partisanship, and the list could go on about what I heard in the aftermath of 9/11.  Our country was fundamentally changed forever. It still is today. Terrorism changed everything for the US. While the effect of what happened on 9/11 may be somewhat muted, the memory is still there. Students still ask me about that day. Conversations come up and memories are reviewed. I think what is lost on many of us is the resulting politics that have come from that event. What I believe we should do is remember, but also think of how it is important for us as individuals and as a country so we do not forget and we appreciate what the day means for us.
    For me, the memory of that day is strong and the fact that it is 9/11 today brings back many memories of how that day went on. It is a time to remember those who have lost and appreciate what we have and to show compassion for those are still directly affected by it. It is a day that does not escape my memory just because the sheer magnitude of all that went on that day cannot be forgotten.