Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ten Years Later

It was a weekend filled with memorials, news specials, and I'm sure many tears on the part of thousands of people who lost loved ones ten years ago. September 11. No one has to ask what significance that date has. It will forever be etched in the minds and memories of all of us who were living on that day. "Where were you when you heard...?" Everyone has a 9/11 story. I know several people who have birthdays on that day, but their special day is not the first thing I think of when the date is mentioned. My neice was born on September 7, 2001, four days before that tragic day. I remember speaking to my sister on the phone the afternoon of the 11th when she said "I am just so glad she wasn't born today". My TV was filled with images of horror all day that day, and this weekend they were repeated for all the world to see and remember.

We weren't glued to the TV this weekend. We did watch Tom Brokaw's special on Friday evening that recounted the events and retold stories of heartache and survival. Connor was especially interested, although I'm not sure whether his interest stems more from curiosity about what actually happened that day and why, or from an eleven-year-old boy's innate excitement at seeing things blow up. He did have lots of questions that Chris and I tried to answer as best we could, honestly yet sensitively. We want him to have a healthy understanding of the events of that day, events that he can't remember, events that changed our world. When we went to bed Sunday night Chris turned off the television and said "Enough 9/11 already!" I agreed with him to a point, but my response was "Better too much than not enough". I think it is important that people remember what happened that day for many reasons, but I believe it is critical that remembering does not cultivate a culture of fear or sadness. There are wonderful stories of hope and survival that began that day, and I think that is what we should focus on when memorializing September 11.

I do, of course, remember where I was when I first heard about planes flying into the World Trade Center. I was booked to supply teach that afternoon, but was spending my morning visiting other schools to inform them of my availability the first week of school, as I did every year. I had taken Chris to work and Connor to Merry-Lynne's first thing in the morning. I remember it was a beautiful day. Mid-morning I stopped at home for some reason and called my friend Krista. She told me that a plane had flown into "one of those tall buildings in New York City". "The World Trade Center?" I asked. I had been to New York on a bus trip six years before and remembered being amazed as I stood in Battery Park and craned my head back to gaze up at these monstrous buildings. Chris had focused part of his senior thesis on how the concrete foundation of the World Trade Center had withstood the bombing in 1993. I knew about the World Trade Center. "Was it an accident?" I asked, at about the same time as the second plane flew into the South Tower. I scrambled for the remote and turned on my television. The images filled every channel. We watched together in awe for a few minutes before I somehow managed to get off the phone and continue my day. I called Chris, who told me that he and his fellow structural engineers predicted the buildings could not remain standing. I visited a few other schools, and heard on the car radio that the South Tower had fallen, that another plane had flown into the Pentagon, and rumours that the Sears Tower in Chicago and the White House had also been hit. What was happening to the world? More than anything, I wanted to go get Chris and Connor and have my little family all together, but it was time to head to work myself. When I arrived at the school where I was to teach that afternoon I was met at the door by the vice-principal who told me I was not to mention anything to the children about what was going on in the world. I remember thinking that I wouldn't have a clue what to say. I didn't know what was going on in the world, but I had a feeling it would never be the same.

On Sunday, as images from ten years ago flashed across my tv screen, I found myself amazed that it has been 10 years already. So much has happened in my life since then. We've moved three times. Had another baby. Started new jobs and finished them. Lived through diapers, toddlerhood, preschool and much of elementary school. But I can still feel how it felt to be in North America on 9/11. I was lucky — I was hardly touched that day. But I was afraid then, and it all came flooding back at odd moments during this memorial weekend. It almost seemed like everything was cast under the shadow of 9/11.

This weekend was also the Lambeth Harvestfest weekend. The atmosphere of celebration in our community was in stark contrast to the scenes that met our eyes each time we turned on the television. There was a parade, ball games, a party tent, dances, and many other festival activities running constantly, all just a short walk from our house. It crossed my mind a few times that this celebration was not very well timed. What is there to celebrate if such horrific things can happen in the world? By Sunday evening, Chris and I were both quite exhausted from our busy weekend and anxious to get our kids tucked in bed. Connor came in from playing with the neighbour kids at 8 o'clock, excited about going to see the fireworks. "No way", I immediately declared, in my mean-mommy voice, "Way too late on a school night." Heartbreak and tears ensued, and despite my resolve not to let that wear me down, I began to weaken. It might be nice to end this busy weekend with fireworks. It might be nice to do some celebrating. Here we are, ten years after the day that felt like the world was ending, living in a beautiful home, raising two beautiful kids, sharing a pretty great life. Yeah, I thought, fireworks might not be so bad. So, against our better judgement, we loaded up the van with our lawn chairs and headed down to the community center, to sit among our neighbours and enjoy a pretty awesome fireworks display. Just after they began, Chris grabbed my hand and leaned over to whisper in my ear "Are you glad we came?" Absolutely.

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