I don’t remember any of the sounds from that day…no particular words or conversations…the memories just begin in silence as my mind plays the repeating images of smoke and buildings and planes and ash. Not the peaceful silence associated with contemplation or reflection, but the sudden silence that follows the loud noise that wakes you in the middle of the night. It is thick and ominous. It represents the removal of sound rather than the mere absence of it. It is colored with hate, confusion, sorrow, and uncertainty. Ultimately, the images of destruction from early in the day yield to recollections of acts of selflessness and heroics demonstrated by individuals from all walks of life who responded to a call to help and to fight. In the end, I remember courage.
The realization of the gravity and actuality of the attack struck me as I watched the first tower fall. We had been going through our early morning ritual of getting ready for work and school when the news broke. We’d been listening and watching and answering panicked phone calls. It was very surreal, but it felt temporary…initially. Then I saw it fall. Until that point, I think I had been harboring hope that it would be over soon; that the damage could be undone; that lives could be saved. When the camera panned to the vacant space…my hope evaporated. Kendra, Logan, and I stood and stared at the mayhem. I thought about the view from the deck on top of the tower. We held Logan, not sure what to say. I wanted to tell him that everything was going to be alright. I may have even managed to say it. But I certainly did not believe that at the time.
We spent most of that day following the news. It was probably far more exposure than a 5 year old should have to that kind of horror, but we were transfixed and it was the reality of the day. We couldn’t turn it off… it was as if we were waiting for the horror to spread…for another attack…we watched and waited. I continued to think about the towers and the impossibility of it all. I had only visited them once, my uncle took us there in 1991 during a summer trip to visit my aunt and cousins. I can’t think of that place without thinking of him.
I cannot adequately describe the immensity and presence of the buildings. I was awestruck. I was so intimidated by the height and the thought of going all the way to the top that I struggled to walk through the doors and onto the express elevator at mid day beneath clear skies. How humbling it was to see men and women charging in force through the doors and up thousands of steps toward fire and smoke and the unknown. How heartbreaking to know so many were consumed by the collapse and that their lives, and the lives they sought to save, were taken. But how hopeful to see the figures in the streets covered in ash and soot, combing tirelessly through the rubble in search of loved ones…and strangers. There is the courage. And how inspiring to hear of the passengers that seized the opportunity to make a stand. There is the courage.
In the days that followed, we talked to Logan about the attack as often as he wanted to. Some days he had a few questions and had some thoughts to share; other days he wouldn’t bring it up at all. I tried to tell him about the World Trade Center…about the enormous elevator that rocketed us to the observation floor…about floor to ceiling windows that allowed you to look out across the city and, for those so inclined, to look straight down. I tried to tell him about standing on top of the building and feeling like I was in a dream. Endless visibility in all directions. No sensation of moving or swaying… feeling as firmly planted as if I was standing on the sidewalk down below…looking out into limitless possibilities… and sharing that vision with countless, nameless people from anywhere and everywhere. I wish he could have seen it.
While I mourn the loss of lives and the tainting of memories, and detest the cloud of fear and suspicion that has since settled upon our society, I try to dwell on the compassion and strength that was demonstrated in the wake of the attack and it helps me believe we can shake this funk and focus on those things again. And I am glad he did see that.
I will never forget the atrocity, but I will always remember the courage.
Thanks for sharing the memory… tell the ones you love you love ‘em.