[I meant to write and post this on the more appropriate day, which was in fact, yesterday. But some extenuating circumstances with my internet left me unable to write yesterday, so just pretend like I am writing this yesterday–September 11, 2011.]
As I sit here, in Florida, thinking of my life exactly ten years ago, I feel utter sadness, emptiness, and anger. But at the same time, I feel hopeful. I feel grateful. And I feel blessed. Is it possible to feel all of those emotions at one time? Given the events of this day ten years ago, I would say that it definitely is.
I’m not going to sit here and recount my story of September 11 and rehash where I was, or what I was doing, or even begin to try to put into words my feelings and thoughts during that time. You can read my story here, which is a tale I’ve spun many times over the last ten years. Now, enough is enough. You know where I was. You know how I felt (or at least had some sort of idea). You know that I love my father and shortly after that day, I realized why God chose not to end his life (or at least one of the reasons). But today, I’m not sure if anyone knows how I feel about it all–at this exact moment in time. Because today, I amaze myself at the apparent maturity I’ve developed over the last ten years.
Let’s rewind. Here’s me, approximately one month of after the events of 9/11 took place in my very town of residence:
I had just turned 14 years old. I had braces, had just received surgery extracting four permanent teeth from my mouth, leaving me looking like a jack-o-lantern come Homecoming my freshman year. I had never loved another male before, and had never even kissed one (turns out, I still had four years to go before that changed). My dad and I fought all the time, were in and out of counseling for most of our lives, and pretty much–I was going through an extreme awkward phase like most of us did at this age. But one thing is for sure: I had no realization of the exact magnitude those events had on thousands of individuals in my country, state, town, and even school. Yes, people died. Yes, the people who hijacked the planes were evil. Yes, we will never be the same again. All of those were facts that I understood, despite almost loosing my father–but I never really felt super emotional about it.
In college, I watched the movie “World Trade Center” when it was on HBO in our townhouse my junior year. I was 20 years old, and I was sobbing at the end of the movie. My mom happened to call at that moment and I answered the phone crying and she had no idea why. All I could say was, “All of those people, Mom. All of those people!” It amazed me that, at the end of the movie, when those two men were being carried out, hundreds, and possibly even thousands, of people were there to help carry them out. Two people were coming out and so many people came to support and help them. People they didn’t even know! That, right there, was total and complete selflessness that was visually demonstrated to my 20-year-old self.
Though it’s been only four mere years since I watched that film and cried (which I can name on less than the amount of fingers of one hand how many movies I have cried watching), I am still in many ways still a selfish young adult, but I am beginning to see myself coming out of that in the recent months. How do I know this? I can recognize selfless acts that other people do, and am also beginning to *attempt* to do them myself. (Nothing like rushing into a burning people to save people, but you should get the idea.)
I watched this special edition episode of Dateline that aired on Friday. While it was difficult to watch, it was, to me, a very moving and powerful tribute to that awful day. Although we’ve all see the footage unfortunately more than we care to admit, a few things really struck a chord with me as I was watching this episode.
One thing that struck me as selfless and amazing were the videos and images of firefighters and policemen responding to the the first crash, and even after the second. People were running through the streets of New York, running for their lives, as far as they possibly could from the towers, and where were these brave firefighters and policeman going? TOWARD the incinerating building shooting out debris like a torpedo. How incredible is that? Sure, firefighters are trained to go inside burning buildings as a profession, which they do, sadly, but there is absolutely no amount of training or experience that could have prepared them for what they faced with when they reached those buildings.
Dateline reported that the width of the stairwells inside the towers were “wide” enough for two people to stand side by side and that was it. Therefore, there was enough room for two lines of people to go down at one time. Or, as these firefighters put it–one line going down, and another going up. People were running down these stairs, single-file, fighting with the firefighters telling them not to go up there. But no, they had to get up there to help those that were trapped. And sadly, I’m not sure how many of those that did actually go up to help ever came out alive. That is absolutely, completely, the most heroic and selfless act any one person could possibly carry out. To go into a building that frankly, no one knew would be collapsing, to help people that they didn’t know–complete strangers–is so admirable.
Then I saw this picture in my Newsweek that arrived in my mailbox last week. While usually flipping through the magazine, not really stopping to look at a lot of the pictures, and skimming through articles, I stopped and starred at this photo for a good five or ten minutes. I had never seen this picture before, and the fact that it covered two pages in this issue made its statement even more powerful.
If one picture could represent September 11, 2001 forever, it would not be one of the plane hitting the second tower; it would not be one of the buildings falling or people jumping; it would be this one. Because I believe this picture embodies so much of that day and shows what our country is all about, to this day. Look at the picture for a few moments and what do you see? People, covering the streets of Manhattan (a rarity, to be in the middle of the usual grid-locked yellow taxis that litter the streets as much as trash litters the subway lines). These people are white. They are black. They are Asian. They are Middle-Eastern. They are young. They are old. They are middle-aged. One is wearing a suit. The other is wearing a t-shirt and probably jeans. Another is wearing a wind-breaker jacket (and facing the opposite direction, for whatever reason). Another is wearing a dress shirt and tie. Some have glasses, some have grey hair. Some have long hair, some have short hair. Some have no hair. Some are married. Some are single. Some are engaged and some are widowed. Some live in Manhattan, others in the Bronx or New Jersey. Some work on Wall Street, others work as a dishwasher at a restaurant on Water Street. Some are from New York. Others are from China. Some are from Queens, some are from Brooklyn. But two things are the same with every last person in this picture. Their expression, and the direction of their faces. Though there’s so many differences in the people–what they look like, what they’re wearing, where they’re from–they all have the exact same reaction to what they were seeing with their naked eye. And, to epitomize this picture of America even more, there is conveniently a Starbucks in the background. 😉
This picture makes me believe in the good of mankind. It makes me believe that though there are sick people out there, there are also good. There are people who know right from wrong, people who care for others, and people who are willing to risk their lives for others whether that be a policeman, firefighter, or member of the military. That makes the evilness that we see every day happening in this world–the sin and destruction–whether it is murder, rape, theft, adultery, cheating, or even just mean words, seem like it is rare. Because pictures like this make all of the bad people in the world just… fade, even if it’s only for a moment.
But then I remember who is responsible for the reactions of those people in that picture. Who brought those expressions to their faces? “Evildoers” as the Bible says. Sadly, this was an act of bin Laden, who has since been brought to justice, but also led a big organization capable of trying to destroy our country as we knew it. He and his organization took thousands of lives “all for the sake of Jihad” as they frequently stated in the book I read earlier this year about bin Laden, titled, “Growing up with bin Laden,” written by bin Laden’s first wife and his second to oldest son. He took innocent lives and in the end–lost, though his organization still believes otherwise.
Innocent lives like the father of a girl I met in Manhattan at a bar nearly two years ago, who still feels so much pain. She is engaged now and will not be walked down the aisle by her “smart, loving, and intelligent” (as she put it yesterday) father. She read his name, along with dozens of others yesterday at the anniversary ceremony. What a courageous woman she is.
Or another innocent life–like the one of my dad’s precious co-workers at the Pentagon, Jerry. I still remember his name to this day, and I’ve thought and prayed for his family so much over the last ten years. I remember my mother telling me that he had a daughter my age, who attended a nearby high school. And that daughter never heard from her father that night, and I remember praying feverishly that he was just trapped in the rubble and would be rescued alive. But he never was. How easily could this have been my own father’s fate? It wasn’t, praise God, but it sure could have been. And because of that, I feel pain for these two girls. And the 3,000 others with the same story of their fathers, or their mothers, or husbands, or wives, or even–children.