Saturday, September 11, 2010

Memories - September 11

Our lives are made up of memories. Every single person in the world has their own set of experiences, and their own memories. It’s what makes us all unique. Like stars spread across the night sky, some memories are very clear and bright, while others are dim and almost unseen. And then there are those memories that are so bright, they are almost like a moon, blotting out all points of light within their radius. Those are the memories that are so powerful, they can command all of our senses, if only briefly, reminding us of sights and sounds and smells, of one endless moment of time, years, or even decades later.

When I was in high school, one of my history teachers, Mister Standage, was talking about moments like the ones I described above. The example he gave from his own generation was the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Mister Standage said that we could ask just about anyone in our parents generation about that day, and they could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

In my own set of experiences and memories, there are two historical events that I consider to be real “moon” moments. The first was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. I’ll never forget that image on the television, the thick, white exhaust trail going up into the sky, then, at the moment of the explosion, splitting off into two separate trails, forming a gigantic letter Y in the sky. The second moment is, as you may have guessed, the disasters of September 11. That is the memory I want to talk about today, on the 9th anniversary of the occasion.

In early July of 2001, my wife and I moved from Kansas City to Dallas. I spent July looking for a new job and finally found one at the beginning of August, although I was not to begin work until August 20. I was just three weeks into my new job at UPS when the towers fell.

We were sitting around at work that morning as usual. I don’t remember the exact time, or even what day of the week it was, was it a Tuesday? News began to filter through the office that something had happened in New York. An airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. How could that be? Was it a student? Someone taking a flying lesson? My own initial thought was that it must have been a small, single-engine airplane. I don't think it occurred to any of us at that early stage that it could have been a huge passenger jet full of people.

Soon enough, we learned that it had indeed been a passenger jet, and it wasn’t long before more news began to trickle in. A second plane hit the other tower. A third crashed into the Pentagon. Another went down somewhere in Pennsylvania. Of course, by this time, there was no question that this was no mistake. There was such an overall feeling of dread as we waited to see what would happen next. Waited for the next shoe to drop. By the time the two towers in New York City came crashing down, we knew what it was to be afraid. All over the country, people were beginning to panic. The office towers in downtown Dallas were being evacuated, my supervisor’s husband worked in one of them. We assumed it was the same in every major city.

I remember taking a lot of cigarette breaks that day. I kept going out to my car to turn on the radio for a few minutes. All of the local stations had begun non-stop coverage of the event, and there was no music at all. I so clearly remember sitting in my car with the radio on, desperate to learn what was going on. .

The building that I worked in at that time was not far from DFW airport, the main airport in the Dallas, Fort Worth metro. The constant sound of the big jets coming and going had become little more than background noise to us, something barely noticed. Unnoticed, that is, until it was gone. The thing I remember most about that long day, is the eerie silence. There was not a single plane taking off or landing. Every time you stepped out the door you were struck by that oppressive silence. I don’t even have the words to describe how creepy that felt. It was like the whole world was holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen next

Well, I don’t think we got much work done that day. September 11 was probably the most non-productive day the business world had ever seen. Anyone in the office who had a walkman had their headphones glued in, passing on new information as it developed. The rest of us hung on their every word. All I wanted to do was go home and turn on the tv.

When I did finally get home, I turned on the set and couldn’t take my eyes from the ghastly images. An office tower with a gaping hole in the side; a tremendous column of thick black smoke gushing from the wound; tiny figures falling or jumping in an attempt to escape. The devastation of the two towers crashing down, one after the other. It was so unbelievable, more like a movie than real life. That was a hard day for America, and for Americans. I will never forget the silence of that day, or the terrible images on the television.

I’m sorry to say that I was not a Christian on September 11, 2001. If I had been, I would probably have uttered that burning question that was no doubt being echoed all over the country: “Why would God let something like this happen?” I think I have already mentioned this somewhere in my blog before, but Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham-Lotz, was asked that question in an interview shortly after September 11. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something like “Our nation has been asking God to get out of our government and out of our schools for so long, that God, being the gentleman that He is, has calmly backed off.” That’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless. You hear it on the news all the time, prayer outlawed in the schools, the pledge of allegiance banned because it mentions God, people wanting to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency. We can’t expect God to go on protecting us when we, as a nation, have turned our backs on him.

But I digress. My last memory of September 11, concerns David Letterman. I watched Dave faithfully every weeknight for many years, and I’ll never forget his first show following the tragedy.

Dave refused to go on the air the rest of that week, but finally agreed to go on the following week at the behest of New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani wanted to bring some normalcy back into the world, and knew that getting Dave back on the air would be a big step in that direction.

Dave’s first show was hardly normal, though. He didn’t do an opening monologue at all. He understood that it was no time for telling jokes. His first guest of the night was Dan Rather. Rather was so emotional over what had happened to his city that he could barely speak. There were tears in his eyes and his voice broke frequently. Letterman and Rather didn’t joke with each other, they just talked about what had happened, and began the healing process.

That healing process was a long one for us all, and I sometimes wonder if it isn’t still ongoing. We have moved on with our lives, and we think about September 11 less frequently than we used to, but we can never forget. We are reminded every time we go through airport security, or look at a photo of the New York City skyline, now and forever changed. It is our duty to remember such things. We owe it to the people who died, and preserving their memory is the least we can do.

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
--George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense

In every high and stormy gail,
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid rock, we stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
--Keith W Ward, The Solid Rock

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful memory. Everyone has a memory of that fateful day.