For the past few days I have been reflecting on 9/11 as the anniversary approached. I live in Pittsburgh, which is only an hour or so from Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed as common citizens took on the terrorists, possibly saving the lives of Congressman, the President or whoever their target was.
I was selling real estate on Tuesday, September 11th and was scheduled for floor duty (answering phones) later that morning. The boys were off to school and I slowly got ready and put on a beautiful dusty rose suit. I left the house early to catch up on some paperwork at the office. I am only a few hundred yards down the road when I hear on the radio, “When the second one hit I thought it may be terrorists”. I had no idea what they were talking about but it sounded too serious to not turn around and go back home. I turned on the TV and watched in horror, unable to think of what to do.
By this time no one knew where they would strike next. My husband is a mailman and out on the street would not have heard any of this. He also didn’t have a cell phone at the time so there was no way to reach him but to go out and find him on his route. I called my office, wondering if I should come in or not. It’s not like anyone would be calling to buy or sell a house. Since Eddie’s route is near the office, I decided to go and find him and then go to the office.
Then I changed out of the beautiful suit and high heeled pumps and put on something sensible with flat shoes and extra layers just in case I would be camping at the office. I thought about my boys at school but felt they would have the ability to handle any emergency. And I fully admit that much of what I thought that day was not really rational. I also looked around my pantry for some non-perishables to stick in the car and in my desk drawers.
The office was like I had never experienced. It was quiet. One agent was watching a small TV and hovering near the phone. Her husband worked for the defense department and was in Washington DC at the time. Figuring I would be of more use at home just in case the school sent the kids home, I left the office.
I arrived back home and turned on the TV in time to see the second tower fall.
I had never felt such a range of emotions as I felt that day. I recalled on December 31, 1999 how Eddie and I had decided that we would not go out. That just in case the world would end; we wanted to be safely tucked in bed and having sex. Yes, I was thinking about having sex. And yes, I felt guilty about thinking about sex. But just like if the world would have ended on 12/31/1999, I was powerless to do anything about it. And that is how I felt, absolutely powerless.
Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, with all the confusing feelings, I know I still felt “love”. It was the only feeling that was not confusing. And as I would find out in the hours, weeks, months and years following 9/11, love gives us power. All is love. I watched the first responders, people on the streets, business people… all kinds of people, all helping each other any way they could in New York City. I had been to New York City twice and recalled that everyone minds his own business and does it with a sense of urgency, hurrying here and there, pushing and shoving and generally not being very nice. Then I watched (just said “watch” on TV) people walking around in a daze, some running, not knowing which direction would offer the best escape if there even was one.
And everyone was helping and being nice. Not much else mattered when you didn’t know if you would see any of your loved ones again. So people showed love to anyone, to everyone. They were fellow human beings that shared nothing in common except that they were there, at that place and time, not knowing what was happening or what would happen next.
I was never so happy to see my boys when they got home from school. I was never so happy to see Eddie arrive home from work. Nine months later I realized that many couples felt the same way that day.
I was lucky to be a real estate agent as it allowed me to set my own hours. So I spent those hours and days in front of the TV, watching the horrors and the magic, hearing about the hate that lead these terrorists to do what they did while at the same time witnessing the Americans and most of the rest of the world helping, praying and loving. This country came together in a way that it never had.
But for me, the most powerful emotions were those I felt watching the memorial service that was held at the National Cathedral on 9/14/2001. I am a Christian and a Patriot. So seeing and hearing a service that combined the two was something I wasn’t going to miss. It took me a long time to find this video, but the reason I wanted to see it again and share it is that I recall the past presidents and first ladies all arriving at the service and sitting together with no “aisle” separating them. The Fords were first to arrive. The Carters came and sat next to them. Herald trumpets begin the hymn “God of our Fathers”. The Clintons arrive followed by George H.W. and Barbara Bush while a string orchestra plays “God Bless America”. A children’s choir sings as President George W. and Laura Bush arrive. They all embrace as though they are family. We forgot about a close election and all the fighting between the Democrats and Republicans.
They were all sitting on the same side of the aisle. They/we are ALL Americans.
I found this video http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/166031-1 on Thursday evening and was watching it and taking notes as the TV broke in with coverage of President Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress. Hopeful as I was, remembering as I was watching the video and seeing our past presidents with no aisle, I now watch our president arrive on the Congress floor with aisles that are wider than ever.
On my computer I watch a video of an Episcopal Minister, an Imam, a Rabbi, a United Methodist Pastor and Reverend Billy Graham deliver the same message of love and unity. At the same time I see the speaker of the house in a red tie, Obama in a blue tie and the only unifying thing in the TV screen shot is Vice President Joe Biden in a purple tie. The religious leaders all say prayers to the same God and yet I hear no mention of God in the halls of Congress. I hear “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” sung by a military choir and hear “This is not class warfare” in the speech. I hear the line of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil” and hear a snarky remark that Warren Buffet pays less taxes than his secretary.
In the days and weeks following 9/11, Americans returned to God, Americans became grateful for what they had, which hurt the real estate industry for a time, Americans reached out and gave in ways they never had. We weren’t Democrats, Republicans or Independents, rich, poor or middle class, black, white or Hispanic, Christians, Jews or Muslims.
Ten years later I regret using the past tense saying, “We were Americans”, but I am not sure if time has healed any wounds or reopened them.
We sailed through the possible end of the world in Y2K and we emerged from the largest attack on American soil on 9/11/2001. Have we learned anything? Are we prepared for December 21, 2012?
I am an optimist.