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The Anniversary: Personal Reflections

Exactly six years ago today, terrorrists attacked the United States of America. They flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. They most likely would also have flown a plane into the Capitol building but were stopped by the passengers of United 93. Almost 3,000 people died that day.

Emotions are still raw for all of us, but I have to admit that in light of my own recent personal tragedies (can Mom's death be considered "recent" even though she died back in January?), this anniversary isn't hitting me as hard today as it did last year. (More on that below.)

Because I'm obsessed with exactness, I've made sure for a while now to know the exact times of certain events that took place on 9/11. The bare sequence of events at the World Trade Center was as follows:

8:46:26 AM: North Tower Hit
9:02:54 AM: South Tower Hit
9:59:04 AM: South Tower Collapsed
10:28:31 AM: North Tower Collapsed

I'm a New York City native, born and raised in Queens, and I grew up in a city in which the Towers always stood. On 9/11, I was at my teaching job in Newton, Massachusetts. The following comes from my journal, a hand-written one that I was keeping at the time.

"The second [staff] meeting ended early, and I went back to the Science lab to check my e-mail. I idly noted a message...which said that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

"I didn't really think much of it and I went back to the Information Center. Shortly after the meeting...began, [a colleague] walked in and asked if we had heard the news. He told us that two planes had hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and he set up the small TV to receive CNN. They showed pictures of two commercial jets crashing into the twin towers...

"I ran to the phone...to call [my younger brother] at work. At 9:35 AM I called and got him. He had just gotten in, and he said that he seen the smoke from the 7 train. I told him to stay in touch, but due to circuits being busy, I wasn't able to reach New York City again for a while.

"The rest of the day passed in a blur of rumors and news. I kept checking webpages; when I couldn't reach cnn.com, I checked the New York Post webpage and the Newsday webpage. I called Nomi...

"At 10:15 AM, the...students returned from their physical education class...and...we told them the news...

"When the meeting with the students ended, I collapsed in tears..."

There's more, of course, but to summarize, I spent the day trying to get news of family and friends, making sure they were all safe. The drive home was surreal, knowing that fighter planes and battleships were protecting New York City. Nomi was already home, as her office had sent everyone home early. The rest of my family was safe, but my older brother, an emergency medicine physician, had been called up to report to New York City. Nomi and I took a walk at 5:30 PM, which included browsing at Brookline Booksmith and getting ice cream at JP Licks. Everything on TV was the news; we watched C-SPAN, which was running a feed from the CBC, so we could get the Canadian perspective.

The next few days, the events were fresh in everyone's mind. On Wednesday, I flinched at hearing an airplane in the sky, then remembered that all commercial flights had been grounded, so it had to be one of our military aircraft, protecting us. I bought my regular comic books that day; Adventures of Superman #596 had an eerie panel of the twin towers of Metropolis being repaired. A friend came over that evening after attending a local religious service.

On Thursday, Nomi and I were sick of the news, and Animal Planet had gone back to regular programming. We watched a documentary about moose to help us get our minds off things.

And life went on. Today, I'm no longer teaching, but editing textbooks in Boston; my younger brother no longer lives in New York City, but in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and two children, soon to be three children; and my older brother is still an emergency medicine physician in the Boston area, specializing in disaster management.

But...last year I noted that "my mother still lives in New York City, as do my two older half-brothers." Anyone who knows me understands that this year's 9/11 anniversary feels a touch different. All my life, Mom worried about my brothers and me, to the point where it would be a joke that she would call to check in on us because of a plane crash that took place halfway around the world. On 9/11, it took me a long time to finally get through to Mom on a phone, and when I did, I collapsed with relief. (I did a lot of collapsing that day.) The idea that Mom is no longer around to call and check up on us in the event of another emergency or disaster...well, it should be no surprise that it's an empty and upsetting feeling.

So even though I'm grateful that I didn't lose anyone close in the 9/11 attacks, I still think about losing Dad in 1990 and losing Mom in 2007. In some way, there's a part of me stuck in both those years. Dad never got to see how the world played out after his death, and neither will Mom see how this country finally adjusts to the fact of 9/11.

One final note about 9/11. Ever since then, Nomi and I check in with each other every morning when we get to work. I'm very grateful that she's around to be a part of my life. I probably don't need to tell anyone this, but today's probably a very good day to remind your loved ones, familes, and friends how much they mean to you.

Comments

In the spirit of your last line, I'm so glad we've reconnected in recent years, and that the twists and turns of life have brought us into the same office. I have to say, if you'd asked me in 1992 which of my college friends I'd end up working with, you probably wouldn't have been at the top of the list. :) But I'm glad it worked out that way.

I feel the same.
Amen to that!
Good words, Michael. I went back to my journal for 9/11/01 and it is one of the few entries that I am still uncomfortable reading because it, and the few entries after are almost incoherent. It's weird to think that when I'm 70 or 75 years old, I'll be referring to 9/11 in the same way my Grandfather referred to Pearl Harbor.
thanks for posting this. no one else has posted anything about it on my friendslist. i was going to, but you did it better than i could have.
You're welcome. I can understand that people might not want to post anything about the anniversay, just as much as I understand my own impulse to acknowledge it.
I'm so glad that you didn't know anyone who was harmed. A couple of Seminary folk and some people from our old shul were touched directly, but no one I was close to. For me, the panic was because my best friend was on his phone with me, talking on his way to work, and was underneath the towers when the first plane hit. Thankfully, he was okay.

One of these days, I think for the tenth anniversary, I'm going to post the audio diary I kept that day.
[[[hugs]]] for you and Nomi.
I was away from home on 9/11, helping my mother through her radiation therapy for the cancer that killed her 10 months later. My husband, too, was away from home, in Boston, and was scheduled to fly out of Logan that day. It took him 3 days to rent a car, get home, and then drive out in his car to get me in Chicago. My mother lived on a direct path to O'Hare, and the lack of planes in the sky was so odd as to be eerie.

The worst part of it for me was being separated from my spouse. Like just about everyone I know, I wanted to touch my family.

I was deeply affected by 9/11, but not as much as everyone else in this country seems to be, and I'm not sure why that is. 9/11 was a tragedy, and a wake-up call, and something to remember and strive to prevent, surely. But I just don't feel it as deeply as the country seems to; I moved on, even though I did lose some people there. (Fortunately for me, not close friends or family.)

The only explanation I have is that I encountered terrorism at the tender age of 12, when ETA was bombing planes flying out of Madrid. On a flight to London, we were asked to pick out our luggage, watch the luggage go into the luggage bay of the plane, then directed to board the plane -- one at a time. (Longest boarding I've ever experience.) I remember how vulnerable I felt, because it seemed to me that this was not going to protect me against suicide fanatics. I continued to live with terrorism in some form or other the entire time I lived overseas. I experienced the heightened (and well-run) security precautions at the airports in Israel when I visited a friend there. (Everyone was body-searched, without exception.) By the time I returned to this country, I no longer had the feeling that any country was inviolate, which perhaps was not in the US psyche until 9/11. Even Pearl Harbor was a military attack at a military target, not an act of destruction against an entire civilization.

As for the connection -- I have always made it a point to say the words "I love you" when parting from a family member, even if I (or they) am merely going to the store. I want those to be my last words to my husband should anything happen. I separate from friends with some word of appreciation for their friendship for the same reason.

There is a pattern of loss in my life from an early age. Maybe that's why.
I feel similar in a way. 03/04/05, the day my father died, feels like my personal 9/11, and even in our grief in those few days between his passing and burial, it was noted at the pattern of the date- an easy-to-remember set of consecutive numbers, in a way that 9-11 was already a well-known number (after 911). I also break down eras to pre 9-11-01, 9-11-01 < x < 03-04-05 and post 03/04/05, and how my father lived to see the biggest event, yet is not here to witness the continued global and political crap.
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