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answering my own questions: lessons from Septmber, 2001

[warning: lengthy, navel-gazing post inside]

I hit this wall sometimes. I stop and pull up and stare at this black, brick wall called September 11, 2001.

I try not to dwell on that day, as itís not very good for my mental health. But sometimes events occur that force you to drive into that wall again.

Last night it was two things.

First, it was reading several stories about the upcoming release of the explosive report on what the administration knew prior to September 11.

Then, David Strain emailed and asked to interview me for his Sunday Seven this week. We emailed back and forth a bit and he asked to see my archives for September 11 and the following weeks [they are not listed in the sidebar, but you can see them here and here].

So, with that date and the events of that date in my mind, I did something I havenít done in almost a year; I read those archives.

The interesting thing about having a blog is that you have a recorded history of nearly every day of your life, right down to the exact emotions you were feeling at the time. Itís a bit different than keeping a daily written diary that you write in before you go to bed at night. Here, the emotions are very clear and very raw when you write about things like 9/11.

I donít read those archives for the very reason that I shouldnít have read them last night - they bring it all back, right down to the tears and the ugly feeling in the pit of your stomach. Even more unnerving is reading what I wrote in the beginning of that day, before the planes hit, and what I was doing the day before, when the world was a different place.

On September 10 I was concerned with Meet the Teachers night at Natalieís school. I had also just switched from handcoding my site to using Blogger and I was giddy with delight.

The morning of September 11, I got to work and was thrilled with the ease at which I could post from work using Blogger, and the discovery of Simpsons cereal.

5:46 a.m. DOH! Simpsons cereals! Ok, I just wanted to use that to point you to a very cool Simpson blog.

8:58 a.m. Blogging from work has just become easier. This is not a good thing. And note to self: Wu-Tang is not appropriate office music.

And then the post after that:

I was just told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. Must find television.

And then the next post, when the world went to hell:

9:11 a.m. There were two planes. Within 18 minutes of each other. Don't think this is an accident. Jesus fucking Christ.

The rest is recorded history for me. Every new bit of news (including some exaggerations or outright false information), every moment waiting for news of people that I knew were there, every fear and tear and nervous moment waiting for something else to happen.

12:20 p.m. This is really eerie. The silence outside. Living so close to Kennedy Airport, the sound of planes getting ready to land is a constant drone throughout the day. And now the skies are empty except for the thin veil of smoke drifting slowly this way. I am in the twilight zone.

8:09 p.m. About a half hour ago, they found the body of my dad's friend, Pete. I've known Pete for as long as I can remember. He owned a restaurant in East Meadow. He was a very nice man who always had a wide smile on his face. He was a great fireman, dedicated to his profession.
The only other time I've seen my dad cry was at my grandfather's funeral.


The next day, I wrote this:

I went outside to get some air and ended up talking to neighbors for a while. There is a feeling outside, a palpable fear that you can almost taste. Everyone has the same blank look on their faces. Everyone keeps shaking their heads in disbelief. And everyone wonders, what's next? Do we go to war? Do we wait for something else to happen? Is it really over? We have, overnight, become a nation brim with paranoia.

And yet, life goes on. People are working, shopping, driving. Pets are being walked and I hear a baby crying and I look at the pile of laundry and know that I must get to it sometime today. We keep walking, keep moving, but we do it differently. We do it with a sense of dread and awe and wonder. We have become part of something bigger than any of us have ever experienced. We have watched the world change in a matter of minutes. We have watched the face of New York undergo major surgery. We have lost friends, husbands, wives, children, neighbors. We are mourning strangers. We are staring in horror at videos of people jumping from buildings, a plane shearing a seemingly unpenetrable structure, a familiar site being obliterated. We see heaps of rubble, a city covered in smoke and ash, the walking wounded and the dead. So many dead.

Where do we go from here? How do we live our lives every day, at least for the near future, without looking over our shoulder. What will we think the next time we see a plane overhead? The next time the ground rumbles or the lights go out or a siren calls from somewhere in the night? How much are we changed and is it forever? How much has our psyche changed? When is the next time you will be able to watch a comedy and laugh without feeling the remorse mix with it? When will you next be able to enjoy a baseball game, a video
game, a movie, a concert, a day in the park? When will our minds heal? When will our hearts heal? Will they ever?

I still havenít answered some of those questions, and some have taken almost two years to answer. How much are we changed and is it forever? How much of our psyche has changed?

Iíve changed, I know that. That day changed the way I think, the way I perceive things, my politics in general. I moved on a path that I did not even know I was on until the following fall. It took exactly one year for me to see that road and embrace it, one year for me to let myself move forward, and over.

Yes, we have changed forever. You canít honestly believe that we havenít. The events of that day, the events that for a few weeks after brought so many of us together, divided us after a while. We gathered on sides and fought with each other instead of for each other. We are still there, at that chasm, and itís not going to change.

9/11 changed so many things. It changed the climate of America. It changed national security, it changed the playing field of politics, it changed who we are as a Nation and for some of us, who we are as people.

If one good thing can be said of all this, itís that I have found a place where I am comfortable. 9/11 made me thing, made me analyze and forced me to confront some of my own personal views and how uncomfortable I was with them. It forced me to be honest with myself and accept that the world I wanted to live in would never, ever exist.

I sat outside for a while last night, on a summerís night that felt like fall, and watched the planes fly overhead for a while. I sat in silence and thought about all that has transpired since that day and I wondered what the world would be like if the events that happened that day were prevented.

We would never know. We would never be aware of how evil, how depraved our enemies really are. If it wasnít that day, those planes, it would have been another day with a different method. We are smarter and wiser, I think.
Several days after 9/11 I wrote this:

Times like these tend to bring people together. I am not a flag-waving patriotic kind of person. If you are a regular reader here, you know I have my problems with this country, with our leader. Yes, I know I am lucky to live in a free country. But living in a free country also provides me with the freedom to criticize it. I have railed against George W. Bush here many times, almost on a daily basis. But now I have to place my trust in him, and the people he chose to surround himself with during his term. I have to put aside whatever came before this and trust him to do the right thing. And I have no idea what that right thing is. I can't imagine being the people in the unenviable position of having to choose what that is. We have to trust. We have to have faith in our leaders. We cannot become divisive. We cannot take our anger out on the wrong people.

Maybe thatís the day something clicked inside of me, but it just took a year for me to pay attention to it.

The anniversary of that day came and it was a flashpoint for me. I took me a full year to mourn, a full year to give rise to the emotions that I kept bottled up. It took this and the 99 comments here and this epiphany to wake me up to the road I had been walking on the whole year before.

Iím glad I read those archives last night. Itís not like I ever forget 9/11, but itís good to go back and remember why I am where I am today, and, more importantly, who I am.


September 12, 2002:

Is it weird that I feel some closure now? I think the spirits of September 11 stayed with me so long because while I was reliving the events of that day, I was also dreading the anniversary of it.

I watched a lot of tv yesterday, I read a lot of weblogs, I cried a whole bunch. And when I woke up today, I found a lot of the despair and anguish I had been feeling lately had left me. Perhaps it was reading all of the stories, perhaps it was just getting another September 11 out of the way. I'd like to say I'm looking towards the future now instead of the past, but I do believe our future includes some bombs over Bagdhad and then, a war. We do what we must to ensure that another day like September 11, 2001 never happens again.
I feel lighter today, I feel less distressed. I still feel angry, but that's just me. I think I live with a subtle anger always brewing inside of me. And that's ok; it's what keeps me thinking, writing, questioning and debating.

Thanks for reading all the way through. This post was a bit self indulgent, but then again, so is a weblog in general, no?

Comments

I for one appreciate such self-indulgences. It's the reason I read your site.

aren't dates funny? the 11th of every month, for sixteen months, i ended up a little blue and reflected on the attacks. then my dad died on february 11th. now every 11th, i think of that morning and spend the whole day morbidly depressed. but at least i'm over 9/11. well, except the jumpers. i need to stop buying calendars.

Once in a while I'll pull out the VHS tape of "9/11", the CBS special made by the two Frenchmen who were trying to make a documentary about firemen. Watching the firefighters bravely yet futilely make their way into the Towers, watching the Towers fall, and, especially, hearing the crash of "jumpers" hitting the ground always puts me back on that day and reminds me anew of why we're in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how important it is to finish the job there.

I don't know wether to thank you or damn you for this post. I'm sitting here with tears on my face as I remember. Most days I don't think much about it anymore, day to day life goes on. Those firemen and, even more, those police officers were my brothers and my sisters. I'm long retired but I spent my working life as an LEO. Nevermind that the FDNY has more people in it than does the town I live near. Never mind that as a Deputy Sheriff on a rural beat the firefighters I worked with were from a volunteer fire dept. Nevermind that the Trade Center had more people working there than live in my entire county. The men and women of the NYPD, FDNY and PAPD, that went into those buildings and got God only knows how many people out before they collapsed on them were the kind of men and women I worked with my adult life.
I never knew them, I met half a dozen NY Bluesuits in my career at classes and symposiums, mostly bosses. I never met or had the privilege of working with NY Firefighters. I didn't know them but I miss them. A piece of my soul was torn out that day. The wound is scarred over but it will never heal.

After September 11 this Nation has dressed it's wounds, tightened the turniquets, picked up its rifle and sidearm and gone out to KICK SOME ASS.

Forgive me, but those images I have just relived while reading this post have confirmed my belief that what we are doing is right, noble and necessary.

Bring them on.

Thanks, so much Michele, for still caring enough to rehash this painful even in our history. Thanks for explaining what you've always eluded to by changing politically because of this day, because now, as a fairly new reader, I understand your position better. Looking forward to the interview.

It's so weird the things that bring that day front and center in my mind. I was taking a picture of the Seattle skyline from the harbor and it reminded me of my NYC skyline pic pre 9/11 and all I could think wa that I hope all the buildings in Seattle are still standing years from now.

The guys on American Choppers built a NYC fire deptartment themed bike and gave it to one of the firehouses, if you get a chance to see it, that episode rocks.

I can't comprehend the bravery of the emergency services on that day. Having to make that trip up the stairwell feeling that you aren't going to see your loved ones again but carryin on, well is an inspiration for people round the world. This is heroism that movie stars, politicians, popsters and sports jocks pale to.
This new report fills me with hope, maybe we'll finally find out how four planes were allowed to remain off course without any air resistance from Darpa. The suffering must end

M-

I stayed up until 4:30am last night reading your archives. I was dead on my feet at work all day, but it was worth it. I think a blog is really the only way to read and write about an event like 9/11, without the benefit of hindsight, without the compression and smoothing over our brains do for us when remembering horrible things.

You are such a brilliant writer. I can't WAIT to read your answers to the Sunday Seven questions!!

Hope you are well and happy.

D

It's fairly strange: sometimes I glance at the clock just when it turns to 9:11 (pm or am, it doesn't matter), and it brings back to mind what happened that day. Perhaps that's how I'll always remember it.

Tanya... from sept. 11th 2001 until sept. 11th 2002, on the 11th of every month, i would cry, often not even noticing that it was the 11th until the next day.

Oddly, I was writing that out here in the comments right around the time you posted your comment. I looked at what I had written and clicked cancel... I must have hit "cancel" just as you were hitting "post," or else very soon thereafter or before.

I thought I was probably the only one having that peculiar reaction. Thank you for sharing.

I never wrote about the experience. I think I just hoped that someday, I would stop thinking about it. But reading your accounts brought back every last terrifying moment, when I was on the phone and not getting a line, trying to call my friends in Somerset, Pa., NYC and D.C.

I was fortunate that all of my loved ones were OK, but really, who was ever OK after that day? I sat on my friend's 17th-floor balcony today, which has a perfect view of the Washington Monument, and there were four choppers flying overhead in the space of 15 minutes. And I panicked, wondering if something were happening. I don't know how long it was before I realized that I'd been holding my breath, but I do know I was too scared to breathe easily. We just can't do that anymore.

I know the extent of the tragedy was most horrific in NYC, but it seems like there is always something going on in D.C. now. First the Pentagon, then the sniper, now a serial arsonist who hit my friend's building not once but three times in a week. Will we ever stop living life on the edge of our sanity? It just doesn't take much to push our buttons anymore. Something's got to give, and I'm afraid that it's going to be our mental health.

Thanks for providing your archive links, especially for those of us who weren't smart enough to start reading you sooner than we did. ;)

Thank you for posting this. I didn't know anyone who was directly affected at the time, and now that I've gotten to know some New York bloggers, I want to know how that day felt for you.

I know I wasn't around then, but knowing about a person's past somehow makes me feel more connected to them. It changes the relationship. Maybe not a lot, but a little. And all those little changes are exactly what this blogging thing is all about.

Your writing is as eloquent as always. I was shocked recently when I watched the Never Forget (http://www.politicsandprotest.org/) photo essay and it brought me to tears. It's all right there just under the surface, waiting to come out. We live our lives, but a little differently. Columbine is still there too.