Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remember...and pay it forward

There's so much emotion for this day.  I feel like the whole world, or at least all of the US, we're holding our breath.  Just hoping to get through this day.  Through the memorials, the reminders of how much time has passed and how much hasn't.  Ten years can feel like a life time and a blink of the eye.  Ten years ago, I was newly married.  I remember at some point during the day, watching the TV, thinking, the year I was married will be remembered for this awful tragedy.  Such a happy time in my life was marred by such blackness.  It was a selfish thought.  So many had lost so much and I was concerned about myself.  At that point, I was allowed that kind of selfishness.  I was young and in love and all I needed to worry about was me.  And that's how it should be at that point in your life.  Watching the attacks on September 11, 2001 changed who I am, and how I approach things.  I lost a large part of innocence.  I know that sounds so cliche, but it's true.  I feel like something in me broke that day.  How could people hate so much, that they would kill others to show that hate?  Not just one or two crazy guys, a whole group of them, willing to carry out such an awful deed.  You could argue, that in someways the people in the buildings were of no consequence to them because they would never see them.  They were the nameless, faceless enemy to them.  But the people on the planes? They sat by them.  There were kids on those planes.  How can you be willing to hurt them?  I still can't wrap my head around it.
When the first tower fell, it was so surreal.  It was like you were waiting for an announcer to break in and say it was a movie, and now that you were hooked in, you had to come see how it ends.  Only it wasn't a movie. It was real.  I remember as that first tower fell thinking, "Oh my God, there are still people in there.  There are emergency personal who ran in to help and they can't be out yet." And everywhere you went that day, the image of those planes, the buildings, where all you saw or heard about.  We went into work that day, but no one did much.  Most people spent the day trying to contact loved ones on the East Coast and watching the footage on the Internet.  I have family in New York, they contacted my parents in relative short order & informed us of who was where and that they were safe.  We were learning of what a mess the communications were there, so much of it was linked to the buildings.  We were grateful to know they were okay and that they were able to tell us so. It would not be that easy for some many others. After several days, I had to stop watching TV and listening to the radio.  I think they call it "catastrophe porn."  It's like you're hooked on the image of the terror.  We've seen it with other situations, where the media play images of tragedy over and over and over again.  In this case, it didn't desensitize, or numb you.  In this case, it just made you feel sad and helpless.
I spiraled into depression after September 11, 2001.  It was the last straw, in my case.  It's really hard for me to see all the footage again.  I'm doing my best to minimize it.  I don't want to feel that sense of helplessness or hopelessness again.  It's hard for me to think about this event without feeling that way.  I have kids now.  I don't have the luxury to wallow in that kind of pain. 
What I do want to remember is how Americans behaved for the next several months.  People were generally nicer to each other.  We stopped cutting each other off in traffic.  We held the door or elevator for each other.  We made eye contact and smiled at each other.  On airplanes, the pilots asked us to greet each other.  We weren't nameless or faceless, perhaps if that had been the case, the terrorists might not have been as inclined to act.  It seemed everyone had a picture of an American flag in their rear car window.  We collectively agreed that life was too short and that we were going to show those who hated us that they were wrong about us.  We're naive about how the rest of the world views us.  We're brought up to believe that everyone is jealous of us and wishes they could be American.  Not true, by a long shot.  But the thing that is true, is that we are strong and we have each others' backs.  The terrorists assumed we were weak and afraid of death, but they were wrong.  The people on Flight 93 showed them that while we don't have a death wish, we will protect our own however we need to.  The emergency personal who ran into those buildings to get people out; showed them, that we will sacrifice if that's what required of us.  Our spirit and resolve is strong.  I can't explain to my kids why those people had so much hatred that they wanted to hurt us so badly.  But I can show them, that most people are generally good.  And when it comes down to it, good always wins. 
I know we're supposed to pause in memory at 8:46 EST.  We'll be asleep here on the West Coast.  But I'm going to try to remember the sense of family we had for months after.  I'm going to let people in, in traffic.  I'll hold the door for them. This week, I'll go donate blood.  Maybe pay for the coffee of the guy behind me at Starbucks.  I'm going to pay it forward tomorrow;  And the next day and the next.  Because the terrorists didn't win 10 years ago.  And they don't win today either.  I hope you'll pay it forward this week too.