September 11, 2013

I am amazed at how emotional I still am upon this day each year.

I get queasy leading into September.

My eyes got hot with tears I read a commemorative headline or hear a news commentator say “September 11th”. Even more so as the specials of the victims and the heroes begin to pop up on my news feeds, Facebook page, TV guide.

Part of it is pride – remembering how our nation came together during that time.

Part of it is because I immediately transport back to that day.  All the horror I felt as I watched things unfold comes rushing back as if it just happened yesterday.

And still another part is thinking of the difficulties so many face today resulting from those attacks.

It’s all very emotional. Hard to live through something like that – even if you were miles and miles and miles away.

Like so many, I can recite exactly what I was doing that day when I heard. I was driving through Port Richmond in Philadelphia, on my way to the office where I worked in marketing / promotions for a non-profit in Philadelphia. The sky was crystal clear – blue as ever and dotted with some happy white clouds. No sign as to what was unfolding up and down the East Coast – it was simply a gorgeous September day in Philadelphia.

As usual, I was running a bit late for work and was rushing through river-side Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods – Tacony, Bridesburg, Port Richmond – as I worked my way towards the Delaware River waterfront where our office was. I was listening to my favorite radio program – Preston & Steve, of course. Right about 9 a.m. ET, Preston broke the discussion the crew was having and said something to the tune of Folks, we’re seeing preliminary reports that a plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City. It’s not clear if this was an accident or what. It looks serious – we’re taking a quick break and we’ll be right back. 

And it was serious. So. Serious.

I kept driving towards work. To this day, I curse my strong work ethic and how that work ethic prevented me from heading back home. Our office was situated just under the Ben Franklin Bridge and as the news developed, so much uncertainty and speculation on what was being targeted next filled the airwaves. Being situated in an office on the water under a major bridge in a major city located just off the main North-South interstate highway right between New York City and Washington D.C. didn’t feel like the safest choice. My house in Northeast Philadelphia, however, did.

I couldn’t peel myself away from Preston’s updates, and ended up sitting in my car in the parking garage listening until I felt like I wouldn’t miss anything major and had enough time to get settled in my office, turn on my radio and listen  some more. To this day, I can hear the tenor of his voice – I found it to be oddly calming even though the words he spoke were – I hoped – unreal. Familiarity in the face of a developing storm. I needed that.

At the time, Kenny (my fiancé) was a teacher, so I couldn’t reach him. I knew he was fine, but I was panicking because I needed to hear his voice. I called my parents, who had moved to New Jersey about four weeks ahead of this. My mom answered and she was blissfully unaware of what was happening. I told her she needed to turn on the news. Right. Now. She did and I can still hear her saying “OH MY GOD.” in a flat tone of voice – one I had never heard before. She repeated it a few times, and with each passing, her voice got decidedly softer and sadder. We sat in silence for a long time as she took in the news. By that time, the second strike had happened. I cried at my desk. Not because I understood the enormity of what was happening, but because I was scared.

The rest of my colleagues were huddled around the TV in the conference room. I joined them. Until the president of our corporation came in, turned it off and told us to get back to work. That there was nothing we could do, so it was best to focus on being productive. Really, dude? Seriously?

I was young and naive at the time, but I knew this was the absolute wrong decision. People need each other in times of uncertainty. They need community. They need to feel connected. Informed. Supported. Focusing on work was helping no one that day. No. One. (And really, who was focusing?!) That decision felt so disconnected from reality. And so cold. So cold.

As governments and school districts around the world dismissed early and encouraged people to go home and stay safe, I sat at my desk, on the waterfront, under a bridge, right off I-95 and planned events and promotions for a non-profit corporation. Needless to say, I was terrified. And kinda pissed off. We weren’t allowed to leave early. All I wanted was to see Kenny and hug him. I was scared. And work certainly wasn’t a priority for anyone that day. (Expect our president, apparently. Pretty sure we were the only working people in the world who weren’t doing things related to the attacks.)

I made it home just fine. And we sat on the couch (with my brother) and obsessed over the news. I couldn’t get enough information. I felt like I needed to prepare for something. I never figured out what that something was, but I had this innate need to “be ready”. I was on edge for many weeks.

In the days that followed, we kept up with regular things like work and keeping house, getting ready for my cousin’s wedding that coming weekend, getting ready for our wedding scheduled for the end of November. Things were different – people seemed more friendly, more compassionate, more united.

It would be many, many months (…or years) before I finally came to terms with those events. And even today, I am still so deeply impacted, and have such a strong desire to know as much as I can about the victims and heroes who started out upon regular Tuesday that never was.

Fast forward to today, Patriot Day. I heard from friends back East that some schools asked kids to wear red, white and / or blue in remembrance. I like this idea very much.

And then I realized that my kids don’t know what Patriot Day is.

I also realized I am not really ready to tell them. I am not entirely sure why.

I think it’s because I don’t yet want them to know they live in a world where such unthinkable tragedies can happen. And happen on purpose. At the will of another human being. Seems dark in relation to their ages and frames of reference. And I know I wouldn’t be able to do it without crying. I wouldn’t be able to articulate why I was crying in a way they’d understand. I would have no good answers for their questions. Still. 12 years later.

I have, however, been thinking of ways I can help them understand the good things about Patriot Day. I need to read more. And collect ideas from other moms and, potentially, educators. So, I don’t have that story written in my head just yet. Maybe I’ll be ready next year.

Nevertheless, I did have Gavin wear his US Soccer jersey today. He asked me why he had to wear it. I said because it’s Patriot Day. He asked what that was. I simply replied, “It’s a special day for our country.” He was satisfied with that. For now.

So, today, I am remembering. And reflecting. I am hopeful that peace and love grace those who were personally impacted by the events of September 11, 2001 – hoping that their unexpected place in this nation’s history is always reverently remembered and honored. I am also searching for the clarity and courage I need to tell their stories to my children in a way that instills pride over fear, unity over divisiveness, tolerance over anger.

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