9/11. a day that shall also live in infamy.
i’ve written before about what happened in my little world on 9/11. i think it’s safe to say that the day was the most terrifying day of my life, shepherding my then-two-and-a-half-year-old while panic-stricken in the flight path while wondering where on earth my husband, my aunt, my family could be. everyone who was alive and old enough can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing that day.
and we have a tree in our yard, one of the 182 planted all around our county, in memory of the pentagon victims. every day, i look at that tree, now tall and very leafy; and when i’m not cursing the fact that it needs a trim because it’s branches have overspread and sometimes whack my car in the driveway, i smile wistfully, thinking about a lady i never had the chance to meet, a lady who was my co-worker and friend’s wife, a lady who was on that plane. a lady whose daughter recently wrote a column that moved me. in that column, the daughter talks about how her mother, a clinical psychologist, would note that the last stage of grief is acceptance and renewal. instead of asking her to basically attend her mother’s funeral every year, she writes, why not instead make it a day to look ahead and to look inside at ways we can understand and behave better toward one another?
i must admit, the media lead-up to 9/11 is overwhelming. someone must be very afraid that americans will forget the day, as if it were some minor blip on the radar; and so we get panelists after panelists discussing foreign policy. we get memorials, we get survivors, we get audio and video from that fateful day. it’s all very compelling, like a car crash; but all these things are seared into the national psyche, and it’s as if we are looking backward and not forward.
perhaps it benefits a generation of kids who were not alive or not at least old enough to know what actually happened; but then i look at my daughter, who was a toddler at the time and know better. unlike me, she has had to practice emergency drills at school for terror attacks. she knows how best to hide in the coat closet and squish down along with her classmates in case a gunman is coming. you steer clear of the classroom door, she tells me, and you stay down. even my son, born after 2001, knows full well that sometimes, you need to practice in case a bad person is in your school. i remember when they had to figure out danger plans at my son’s daycare in case the children were on the playground and an attack took place. all these plans, and it all starts with protecting babies in daycare, children in schools. there’s a whole different culture of awareness now, since 9/11, at least down here in DC and, i suspect, in the NY metropolitan area. and it extends all the way down to our littlest citizens.
friends sometimes ask me whether i wish i could move away from this area. and after 9/11, i desperately wanted to. i live in the flight path of national airport and dulles, and the sound of planes overhead jarred me for months after the event. i would look into the sky and pray that the airplane overhead stayed suspended and continued soundlessly to it’s predetermined destination. i became afraid of planes, too, and flew infrequently. in short, i felt powerless in the face of horror, and i wanted to somehow get out of its way.
but the truth is that horror can be anywhere. and so can beauty be. after living here for over 20 years, i have grown to grudgingly love this area, a place that belongs to the whole nation. it’s a beautiful place, especially during the early spring, when flowers bloom amidst the urban world. every day, i can drive by the capitol, the national mall, abe lincoln and thomas jefferson, and see important visual statements about our nation and it’s values. it’s far from nirvana, of course, but it’s really a beautiful, important place.
i want to protect this beauty.
i want to be a part of the citizenry that says no to terror; i want to be a part of the group that lets terrorists know that while they do harm us in serious, painful ways, that we respond. and yes, we respond in grief at first — but we eventually get past that crushing weight and move into acceptance and renewal. my city’s not of ruins; it’s of people who fight terrorism simply by being here and living their lives. i have accepted that i am here, and i have accepted that, while painful and frightening as it can be to live here, i am going to live here as long as i can stand it. i am going to live here as long as i can love it.
and i intend to love it as long as i can.