Spirit: Lessons of 9/11

These ones came back.

I don’t know how I will talk to my daughter about 9/11. She is only three months old. I don’t know when I will tell her what the story through my lens on that day 10 years ago: The booming growl of the first plane waking me up from a sound sleep on Linda’s couch. The thought “Those damn Blue Angels. Why so early?”

Linda’s friend called and we woke her up and looked out the window to see the very nearby Twin Towers. One was smoking. Through sobs and screams and stunned disbelief, Linda and I watched it all unfold that day. The smoke. The second plane. The papers and people falling through the sky. And finally, the crumbling. The terrible, crushing crumbling of two monuments and all that it would symbolize.

We went outside to join the ash-covered refugees. Ash everywhere. Posters of the missing already on the walls. We thought it was a good idea to give blood and by some fluke of my subconscious mind I remembered my gynecologist’s phone number and found out my blood type, and hopped on the O+ bus that would take us uptown — albeit a detour all the way through Central Park by a very flustered driver — to the Red Cross. As if there were no people uptown to give blood. Waited on line for a couple hours and then saw a payphone — remember those? — and made calls to my mother, my coworkers, the Seattle Times. And then I got back and the line to give blood had disappeared because there were fewer people alive that they’d anticipated to use the blood. So the guy let me give anyway, and then they closed up shop.

I wandered downtown. My dad happened to be staying in NY because he’d won a trip for signing up for the Fashion Channel.

But it was hard to commune with my family. They were not there. They did not see what Linda and I and so many thousands of other New Yorkers had. It was even harder going back to Seattle, where people were even further removed from it. Yes, people were upset and thought it was sad. But they had so easily moved on. They did not run out of the movie theater in a panic when faced with scenes of people running downstairs, or fire. They didn’t stop breathing at the sound of a low-flying plane.

About a week after I got back from New York I had a dream. Or maybe it wasn’t a dream. Seven or eight glowing figures were around my bed. They were the spirits of people in the Towers. I told them how upset I was and they said they are OK, and to not worry. And then they drifted off, and I was calmer.

This morning I engaged in a discussion on Facebook, saying that I don’t see the people who lost their lives in 9/11 as “sacrifices” for a patriotic duty. They were killed by madmen, murdered by ideology. I guarantee that nobody who went to work in the Towers that day, or got on one of the ill-fated planes, would have willingly done so “for their country” if they knew what was to happen. I will count responders also as mass-murder victims. I am sure you have your own way of looking at it too.

For me, patriotism is an overrated virtue. We don’t know most of what’s going on with our government. Our government has done and continues to act in shameful ways. I work in an corporation in an office in a gray cubicle and a third of my paycheck goes to taxes, which fund war and torture and killing of innocents. I do not think an Iraqi life is worth less than an American one. I do not think we have asked ourselves the basic questions of what we’ve done to contribute to this climate. You can’t keep blaming it all on the other guy.

Ten years later and I am still cranky and so so so so so sad about what happened. I am forever haunted by the stories of people who left work in a spat with their spouse and never came home. The people who made a last-minute decision that changed their fate, for better or worse. The small action, missing a subway or being the last to cram in an elevator.

And that is why, after 9/11, I made a point of saying “I love you” to people on the phone and at emails, even if it’s someone I’m going to see tomorrow or later on. Because I might not.

9/11 will be something far far away for Gracie when she’s old enough to understand. So I will start with “I love you” every day, and take it from there.

Linda and I spent a lot of time searching for meaning in the hours and days that followed. We found it, but not in the way you’d expect.
Vanessa McGradySpirit: Lessons of 9/11

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