Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | September 11, 2012

Pausing to Remember

I wrote the following piece for Outreach NC, the local magazine that I am freelancing for. When my editor approached me with the idea of writing a column on the anniversary of September 11th, I wasn’t sure I could do it or that I wanted to do it. The more I mulled it over, however, the more I realized that it would be a good thing to stop and think about that date eleven years ago. Since it was a personal column, I wanted to share it here as well.

There are moments in history that we will never forget. Many people can tell you where they were or what they were doing when the news hit about Pearl Harbor, when JFK was shot or when the Challenger exploded. These are not exactly pleasant memories. For me, the moment that I can’t erase is the day the planes hit the World Trade Center.

This September marks the eleventh year after that tragedy. We marked the 10th anniversary with a lot of big interviews and commentaries, but this year we probably won’t hear a lot of people talk about it. We probably won’t hear much about September 11th until we reach another milestone anniversary. On one hand that’s great. People are moving on. But as someone who has done all she could to block out the memories of that day, I have come to realize that it is important for us to really stop and think about the impact September 11th has on us and to give it the moment of silence and respect it deserves.

In the Jewish religion we mark the anniversary of a death with a Yartzeit. We take a moment from our normal routine, say a special prayer, and light a candle that will burn for 24 hours. During that time we stop and reflect on our loss and say a prayer of thanks for all that we still have. Last year, all of the media focus on the 10th anniversary made me stop and reflect for the first time in many years. I couldn’t escape the coverage and had a physical need to get it out. This year, a request for me to write about the date has forced me to consider how much September 11th has impacted me. There is something cathartic in allowing ourselves to have the moment to truly mourn for what happened that day and how it changed each of us.

Eleven years ago I was single and living in New York City. I was on a cross-town bus when news of the first plane hit, and I don’t believe a lot of us were able to fully process the information – I know I wasn’t. We were told that the subway would only be running to 14th Street, and since I got off there anyway, I hopped on. By the time I got downtown, the second plane had hit and the terror became more real. I was far enough away to not fear for my own safety, but close enough to see things that I will never be able to erase from my mind. The staff who had made it into my office were sitting around a conference table watching CNN, too dumbfounded to do much of anything. We waited anxiously for phone calls from people to make sure everyone was accounted for. When it got a little later, I called my parents in California to let them know that I was okay. Shortly thereafter the phones no longer worked.

At some point my co-workers and I peeled off in groups to make our journeys home. I had to walk approximately 100 blocks through Manhattan. On that journey I saw people covered in dust from the collapsed buildings and ran the other direction when people started saying there was a bomb at Grand Central Station, which of course there wasn’t. The next day restaurants were packed, since all office businesses were closed. They wouldn’t let you below 14th Street if you didn’t have identification that showed you lived there, so even when most of New York reopened the next day, my company stayed closed. Phones were iffy and the news just repeated the same horrific images over and over. It was a terribly frightening time when I wished I had more people in my life that lived in closer proximity. Even when I managed to get out to New Jersey to be with friends, I returned with a view of the bottom half of the city still smoldering. I was incredibly grateful when my office reopened just, so I could get back to some kind of normalcy and push the events to the back of my mind in a beautiful case of repression.

They say “Never Forget.” For the longest time forgetting is exactly what I tried to do, but now I see how important it can be to remember. This year on the 11th anniversary, I will say Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning) and allow myself the day to reflect and be thankful for the love that I have around me. Each year, it gets a little easier and a little less painful to look back.


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