Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pausing to Remember

By Trish Milburn

History is filled with life-altering events both big and small. Sometimes those events are so big that they change the lives of everyone, not just those directly affected. When those things happen, people tend to remember where they were when they heard the news. Members of the Greatest Generation remember the attack on Pearl Harbor. People my parents’ age remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember that I was at home from school for a snow day when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

But nothing holds the clarity of that morning ten years ago when we all suddenly realized that Sept. 11 would never be just another day on the calendar again.

I remember exactly where I was standing when I heard the news about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was outside the office of a coworker at the magazine where I worked at the time. I hadn’t been at work long, less than an hour, and another coworker arrived at work and told us she’d just heard about the crash on the news in her car. We went to the TV thinking that this was a horrible accident. When the second plane hit the South Tower, the reality that this wasn’t an accident hit us. The day just got more horrible and surreal as the minutes passed. Flights were grounded nationwide, leaving an eerie silence in the skies. Less than an hour after the first plane crash, another hit the Pentagon. The shocking images of the towers actually collapsing. The crash of the fourth plane into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the passengers revolted, and speculation it was heading toward Washington, D.C., perhaps the Capitol or the White House.

Throughout the day, we would wander back and forth between the conference room where the TV was located and our offices because we were on deadline for the magazine. After leaving for the day, I came home and watched TV for hours, in shock at the devastation and wondering what this would mean. Would there be more attacks? Were we going to go to war? Who was responsible? Was any place safe? Because we now live in a 24-hour TV news cycle, the coverage was endless. I watched the stories of rescues, of people looking for loved ones, of heroism and loss for days after Sept. 11. I can’t remember how many days later it was, but I finally had to turn off the TV. I couldn’t handle all the sadness anymore.

It’s been 10 years since that day, and it seems like maybe half that. Our way of life has been forever changed with increased security measures and what has been dubbed the War on Terror. I choose not to focus on those aspects overmuch though because they cause too much anxiety and sadness.

Instead, as the stories about the 10th anniversary have been written and broadcast, I find hope in the stories of how survivors changed their lives after 9/11. One man was a stock trader (or investment banker, I can’t remember) on 9/11, but in the aftermath he started taking tango classes. Here he met a woman and fell in love. Now they travel the world teaching the tango. Another man, who lost his wife and unborn child aboard one of the hijacked planes, worked hard to have a maternity wing built and named after his wife at the hospital where their child would have been born. While these stories were born of great sadness, they also speak to the tremendous resilience of the human spirit, our innate need to go on and to find something good amidst so much sorrow.

In the days after the attacks, there was a tremendous swell of people helping each other, even people they didn’t know. First responders from all over the country flocked to New York to help the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority, who’d lost so many of their fellow firefighters and police officers. People on the streets aided each other any way they could. Blood banks across the country saw huge numbers of donors show up. Support for first responders, real heroes, skyrocketed. It was a national tragedy that brought out inspiring amounts of kindness. That’s the part I like to focus on. And I think that outpouring of kindness is part of what we shouldn’t forget and what we should try to emulate every day, whether it’s the anniversary of 9/11 or the most ordinary of days.


Jane said...

I think everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attacks. Every day we're reminded of what happened because the city is always on high alert and there are plenty of police in the streets and transit stations. I do remember how everyone came together.

Helen said...

Well done Jane have fun with him

I agree Trish this is a day to remember all the people who helped with rescues, I was in bed asleep here in Oz when it happened but one of my daughters was up watching TV and ran through the house waking everyone up and we were all huddled around the TV watching the horror of this day.

My heart goes out to all the people involved and the way people come together in a crisis.


Beebs said...

I think the horror of those images will stay in people's minds for ever. I too was at work when the news broke and everyone was simply horrified at what was happening. I live in Ireland and there was a massive security clampdown here too, I think the pervasive feeling was that nowhere was safe.

My sympathies go out to everyone who lost family and friends on that terrible day.

jo robertson said...

Beautiful post, Trish. I think it's appropriate to remember the loss and grief of September 11, but also to remember the resilience of the human spirit.

Despite the maddening clash of American politics and the stress of the current economy, America's strength has always lain in her ability to unify in times of crisis.

Anna Sugden said...

I think Jo's point about resilience is a really great one. As much as we honour and remember such tragedies, it's the human stories that resonate with us. It's the tales of those ordinary people who died, who helped, who fought, who survived which move us.

I just went to see a play about Churchill during the Second World War and there was a reference to Dunkirk. The Blitz Spirit and Dunkirk Spirit are two terms often used to describe our resilience. I think in years to come that will apply to the people of NY.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I was at work too, I had gone to cashier's office to pick up the totals and was coming back to my desk and everyone was standing outside their cubicles, crying and there was a feeling of panic.
The department head came out of his office and announced what was happening and told us to go home, slowly and safely. The schools were crazy with parents picking up their children, me included, my first thought was to pick up my son and get home to my mother. Then I was on the phone to reach my daughter who lived in NC at the time. Everyone was concerned because that is the banking center of the US and NC would be a prime target after Washington.

Donna MacMeans said...

I was at a client's house to work on a band boosters organization books. The TV was on and we watched with horror when the second plane hit verifying that this was no accident. My client and I couldn't concentrate on the task at hand so we rescheduled to attach this another day. On the way home, I stopped at a grocery store and was mentioning to the teller that I'd heard of another plane crashing in Pennsylvania related to the attack. The woman behind me in line assured me that I was mistaken. She was familiar with that part of Pennsylvania and had family in the area. Something like tat couldn't have happened there. I didn't argue - what was the point?

The saddest thing I remember about that day was the sound of all the car alarms beeping. Incredibly irritating. I was supposed to attend the very first day of meeting of a fireman's civilian auxilary class that night. It was postponed to the following week. When I attended the first class, I learned that those weren't car alarms...rather that was the warning on the fireman's air tanks that they hadn't moved in a set period of time. It's a device to help firemen locate and save other fallen firemen. When I realized that, tears poured down my cheeks.

I stood in silence with 100,000 others at the OSU footgame yesterday in a moving tribute to the fallen and to living first responders that work to keep us safe. God Bless each and every one, and god bless each of our readers as well. I truly believe good will always prevail.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Jane, when I was in NYC over the summer, I could tell that things are still very much affected by 9/11 there. Our hotel was on Times Square, and it seemed like some sort of concern or scare was going on there every day.

Helen, this was one of those events that's so huge and shocking that the entire world was watching. Like when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and when that gunman killed all those people in Oslo.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Beebs, that was very much the feeling here as well. We were all stunned, that we could be hit so hard on our own soil. It made any horrible thing seem possible.

Jo, I think you're right about us coming together in times of crisis.

Anna, I happen to have The King's Speech on DVD here from Netflix. I plan to watch it today. I'm amazed when I hear stories of how the English people survived all those bombings. I can't imagine living with that kind of fear on a daily basis.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Dianna, I think everyone just wanted to go home and be with their families, where we felt some semblance of safety. I remember not feeling particularly safe in public buildings for quite some time. I admit I still have thoughts about safety any time I get on a subway train or when I visit some place (like Times Square) that could be a big target.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Donna, that's so sad about the firemen air tank alarms. When I was preparing this post, I was reading through a timeline of events from that day. Even that had me tearing up.

jo robertson said...

My mom and dad lived through military service during WWII and I often think of how they celebrated their first anniversary just days before Pearl Harbor. They didn't talk much about it, but I'm sure the fear and outrage were experienced in equal parts.

Joan said...

Whew, etched in memory for real.

I was off work that day, waiting for the carpet cleaner to come. I walked back in, saw the first tower burning and within seconds the second one missling in.

Charlie Gibson, who was as stunned as we were said "There's been another accident". Um, even this very civilian person knew that was no accident. There were reports of a missing 4th plane and I remember just praying "Give them the strength they need to do what they need to"...I guess God did.

I got a call from the hospital alerting me that we were going into emergency mode, that I might have to report. I answered numbly thinking "But this is KY". Well, I live only about 30 miles from Fort Knox.

Then wanted to get hold of my brother, talk to him, reassure myself he was ok. I ached to be out of my house and once the carpets finished, rushed down to my church's chapel to pray. There were already parishoners there.

And for a week....I watched TV. Alan Jackson's song "Where Were You when the World stopped turning" mentions turning off the coverage and watching a I Love Lucy rerun. We had to for our sanity.

The American REd Cross ran a special blood drive. I donated, not because I thought (this was Thursday) that it would be needed....too painfully evident it would not...but because I HAD to do something.

I've been to Ground Zero twice. The first time was very spiritual, very gut wrenching, very miraculous. The second on the opposite side (on 9/11 weekend) with a nutjob inciting the crowd screaming out conspiracy theories.

He made a Mennonite girl cry!!!

I wanted to slap him, shout out "Take your meds" but my friend held me back. You could see the police wanted to react but would not. This is America afterall...freedom of speech.

But could I slip their billy club off their belt :0

The experience of 9/11 as an American can never be adequately expressed with words but with hearts.

God Bless America

Joan said...

Beebs, I remember a lot of Americans were caught in Ireland, unable to get home for days with the no fly going on. They spoke of the care and generousity of the Irish as they worried and struggled with what was happening back home.

Thank you.

Joan said...


Those chirps in the cloudy debris is very disturbing and poignant when you find out what they are. So many...

Louisa Cornell said...

Beautiful post, Trish. Thank you.

I was off work that day. I hadn't turned on the television. I went out to the car to get something and my neighbor was standing on her porch talking on her cordless. She called out to me "Have you seen the news?" I told her no, she motioned me over and I went into her house just in time to see the second plane hit the towers. We sat there and watched, horrified, until her mother came to pick her and her three kids up. Her husband was a long distance trucker at the time and he had called from Texas to tell her to go to her parents with the kids.

I got calls from a number of my friends overseas and got e-mails from those who couldn't get through. Each one was the same "Are you okay? I am so very sorry. Please stay safe."

There were so many heroes that day and so many of them never lived to receive the medals their valor so richly deserved.

Our only hope lies in the education of our young people. Young people all over the world are leading revolutions to gain their freedom and create better lives free of the shadow of fanaticism for their countries. As we remember the heroes of 9/11 let us pray for the heroes of tomorrow. May they accomplish the dream of a world of people free to love one another without the constraints dictated by fanaticism, ignorance, racism and greed.

Nancy said...

Trish, this was a beautiful post. I was home that day. The dh took the boy to school, came home and said he'd heard a radio report that a plane hit the World Trade Center. We figured that meant a small plane, an accident. Then we turned on the TV.

We were away today, at a baby shower for our niece. It was a lovely party, and thinking of children and of hope for the future was especially nice on this particular day.

Cassondra said...

Hi Trish,

Thanks for posting this. It's always a hard day in our house. Glad to see people remembering.

Anna Campbell said...

Trish, what a moving piece. I remember the outpouring of grief and sympathy on behalf of the victims here too - there were quite a few Australians killed in the attacks as well as people from other nations. Those images still have the capacity to make me shiver. I think they always will.

marybelle said...

I do know that horrific happenings bring out the good in so many. I need to focus on that, these ten years on.

Pat Cochran said...

We send along wishes for God's blessings
on those lost, their families & friends!
Also on all those who took part in the
searches, rescues, and recoveries!

Pat Cochran