Friday, September 11, 2009

The day my world got smaller

It's an interesting day today. Not getting the paper and no longer watching the daily or nightly news I was only slightly aware of the date today. And this meant that I was completely unaware of the date's importance. I realized a short while ago that it was 9/11. And this only after reading the article about the Coast Guard storming down the Potomac and creating a stir in the DC area. In past years I've marked this day mostly by myself. Max was a wee one, and Ian and Sam weren't even born yet, so they can't really appreciate the sacrifices that were made by some that terrible day. nor do they really understand the implications of what happened. We drive past the Pentagon regularly, and we often talk about what happened there, but it isn't real to them.

To me it is still pretty frightening. Back in 2001 we didn't live in the DC area. We were solidly in Central Texas. Tom worked at UT Austin and I was a stay at home mom. But Tom travelled - to DC - pretty regularly. He was scheduled to fly to DC that very afternoon - 9/11. His boss was in the air when the terrorists struck and it took several hours for folks to hunt him up, and it took him a few days to get back home. I turned the TV on and saw the plane hit the tower - live - and I was completely beside myself. The I saw the towers fall, and my world got smaller. Tom was standing beside me safe and sound, but for me it instilled in me a fear of vulnerability. We have grown up in a country that is and has been basically free of war. War is something that happens elsewhere - not on our soil. Even though I grew up in the middle of a city with SEVEN military bases, I was never really struck by the idea that there were people dying for our country. It just wasn't real to me - even on Sept 10, 2001 it wasn't real. The hurricanes that hit South Texas, now those were scary. But terrorists? Not so much.

But early that morning my idea of safe came to a screeching halt. I suddenly felt vulnerable. I watched with terror as some unknown entity took control of these massive airplanes full of folks that I could have know, and turned them towards buildings full of people, some of whom I also might have known. I was gasping for an logic in this - but there was none. We were attacked by terrorists in our own front yard, and the world got a bit smaller for me. It wasn't me watching images of massacres in other countries. It wasn't me reading about genocide in a place that was thousands of miles away. It was me watching some people that hated us so much that they were determined to kill as many of us at home as possible. The fear that surfaced in me was a complete surprise. Later I would be able to process what had just happened, but at that exact moment I grabbed my one year old and held him tightly. I hunted up my husband, who was packing his bag to catch a plane to DC, and I begged him not only to no get on the plane, but also not to go to work. I was utterly freaked out. Tom held me close and of course, didn't go anywhere. It took me several weeks to even begin to process what had happened. Some people, especially those in the military and law enforcement, have a better grasp on the world outside their doors. I did not.

I'm finally in a place where looking back isn't so scary, and there's no daily fear that something terrible will happen. I carried that around with me for a very long time. I was nervous every time Tom got on a plane, which he did shortly after they opened up the skies again, and I waited for him to walk in the door every single time he flew. I couldn't imagine anything like that happening again, but I could never have imagined it happening in the first place.

So, thank you to all the men and women who gave their lives in 9/11. I hope that everyone who lost someone in 9/11 has been able to find some peace in their passing. Thank you to all of the thousands of people who stepped up to help after 9/11 in all kinds of capacities all over the country, and all over the world. And I hope that we never do forget what happened that day, but along with the tragedies, I want to remember the weeks and months after - the generosity, caring, and compassion that we saw from people from all walks of life.

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