It happens to us reflexively on a day like today.
With the first glance at a calendar, in the earliest moments of our waking consciousness, our mind goes to that moment.
The moment we saw, or heard, or for some of us physically experienced the forever-changing of the world as we know it.
September 11 is a date we can’t passively remember without an emotional reaction. Today, I was holding my emotions in check until I arrived a few moments early at an appointment. My destination was a hotel. My earliness left me standing for a few moments at the main entrance where two employees were solemnly standing at the base of a tall flagpole.
Together, the young man and woman, who by my estimation were likely elementary students in September of 2001, together silently lowered the flag to half-mast.
For some reason, even though my hour-long car trip left me ample time to listen to news accounts that retold the story of “that day”, this simple, silent action was the thing that moved me to a fresh round of tears.
September 11 is a day to look back, to remember those we lost and those whose lives were forever changed. It is a day to recall the valor of our heroes and to recommit ourselves to the seeking of lasting peace in our world. But it also seems to be a day to tell our stories, to recount for ourselves and those around us our own personal experiences of that collective, nationwide tragedy.
Why do we do this? Why do we retell those, “I remember when…” moments? Why does the pain of that day come back so freshly that even though my fading mental acuity keeps me from remembering today’s lunch menu, I can remember the smell of the toast I was cooking as I flipped on the television set so early that morning? Why must I retell my own version to anyone who will hear it, even though I was so far away and so devoid of personal tragedy?
I don’t have an answer for those questions yet. But I’m glad we pause on this day to remember. I’m glad for the accounts of those who ran into the mayhem. I’m glad to hear the stories of the giants who were lost to us, but who remain alive in the memories of their loved ones. I’m also glad to hear as many stories as I can from people like me who weren’t physically there, but who will never forget.
I don’t think my children remember THE 9/11. They were young enough that we shielded them entirely from the news. I remember driving with them to school that morning (after a protracted disagreement with Greg about if they should even go). I remember that our Catholic school population went together immediately to church. I remember the children praying aloud as a mom who sat nearby received news on her phone of a loved one who had perished. I remember the fact that for some reason my son’s football practice wasn’t canceled, and that I refused to leave him there alone. I remember sitting next to his field and watching military fighter jets scramble in the emptied skies. I remember so many tears, so much fear, and so much uncertainty. I remember wondering how I would ever tell my sons about what had happened. Now that they are old enough to understand and to have formed their own stories of this day, I now feel the need to merge their accounts with my own.
Sue Monk Kidd, that wonderful storyteller who gave us The Secret Life of Bees, nails it when she says, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
Do you have a story about this day? What do you remember? Please share your story with me in the combox or by email and help me to understand why your story is significant to your memory of this day and why you pause to remember.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
And may the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.