Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years

Today is a day of rememberance.  A day of gratitude for those heroes who lost their lives both as innocent victims and as courageous rescuers who gave their lives while selflessly trying to save others.  The day the world stood still, and the day our world changed forever.  Today is a day about stories.  We all have one.

The setting for my own personal story was nestled in central Pennsylvania in a place referred to as 'Happy Valley'.  I was a junior at Penn State, living in an apartment building just off campus.  It was early morning, and I was getting ready for a day of class, and lunch with a friend from high school.  My roommates had just left when I turned my attention to The Today Show.  The scene of a burning tower in lower Manhattan filled the screen.  I ran to the window to yell out to my roommates what I was seeing on tv.  No sooner did they turn the corner to continue on their walk to campus, did I look back at the screen to see the second plane as it descended upon the second tower.  This time, I did not run to the window.  This time, I sat down in the middle of my bedroom floor, the wind knocked out of me.

At one point or another, I managed to peel myself off the floor and get myself across campus.  I don't remember the walk itself.  I remember getting to class, however, and my professor meeting us at the door to excuse us for the day.  I meandered across to the HUB, the student union building in the center of campus, to find a spot to sit in front of the television.  On any given day, the HUB is a bustling and lively building, a dull roar filling the atrium and hallways.  On that day, however, there was an eerie silence.  It wasn't an empty building by any means, quite the contrary.  In fact, it was a lot busier than normal.  But there was a hush over the crowd as tears, hugs, and stares of disbelief were exchanged by the students, strangers, staring at the screens that dotted the building.  I quickly realized we were literally witnessing history being made, and a shift in the way in which we view the world.

The rest of the day and that evening found me planted in front of the television, huddling with my roommates, tears streaming down my face and disbelief in what I was watching.  I'd occasionally try to make a phone call home, but the service was limited and spotty, (and the cell phones weren't quite near the calliber they are today). 

Over the days and weeks that followed, I, along with the rest of the country was mourning, coping, struggling to understand.  I witnessed the phrase 'e pluribus unum' ring true in the weeks that followed 9/11. Out of many, one. 

Fast foward ten years to this morning.  I woke before the kids for once, so I carried Raegan downstairs, and turned on the television to a channel that wasn't cartoons.  The images that filled the screen instantly took me back to that apartment; filled me with the apprehension and disbelief that I'd felt as I watched the scenes unfold ten years ago. 

At some point, the kids came stumbling downstairs and plopped next to me on the couch.  Normally, they immediately ask to watch 'their shows', but not today.  It was as if they could read the look on my face, know exactly why tears brimmed in my eyes.  We sat quietly for a while and the kids watched as the bell rang to mark moments of silence.  They listened as the names of the victims were read, and watched people make rubbings of names on the memorial that surrounded the footprint of where the Towers once stood. 

After several quiet minutes, Gavin asked me what I was watching.  I had become so captivated by the images on the screen, as I had been 10 years ago, I didn't register that my kids were watching along with me.  I was grateful the scenes from the memorials this morning weren't of the tragic images from that horrific day, but focused more on the healing process, the moving forward, and the honorable remeberance of those thousands of lives lost. 

I guess he wasn't satisfied by my silence, because he asked again.  I put on my 'kid gloves' and began to explain.  I wanted to keep things as basic as possible, remembering that they're just 5 and 3.  I think my explaination appeased their curiosity enough, because they bounced up from the couch, and asked me if they could go in the basement to watch Spongebob so I could watch 'my show'.

As much as I want to explain the significance of 9/11 to my kids, I know what I would want to say is beyond their level of comprehension.  Some day, I will explain it to them.  I will let them see the images from that day, and will share my story with them. 

As I sat and watched the coverage today, the memorial shows sharing stories of firefighters, wives, children, husbands, and Americans who were there that day; I thought about the ways in which 9/11 changed me. 

Some of those changes didn't come full circle until I became a mom, and I began realizing that I am responsible for teaching my kids everything.  I knew I'd have to teach them things along the way, but as they get older, it's interesteing to realize all of the things I'd never thought of before.  Beyond the ABC's, colors, and shoe-tying, there are things like compassion, empathy, and helping others.  They need to learn social skills, forgiveness, gratitude, and sacrifice.  The values I instill in my children have been shaped and formed and refined by the events of 9/11 and the time thereafter.  My mom instilled countless values in me as I grew up, however as I sat in the HUB some 10 years ago, I transformed.  I witnessed events that are etched into my brain, experienced feelings I never wish upon my own children, and watched as a nation came together, united in one cause and one feeling of overwhelming patriotism.

I'm not unlike Americans who are still deeply affected by the images from that horrific day.  I'm not unlike Americans who still cope with the loss our nation endured.  I'm not unlike Americans who give thanks to the heroes who gave their lives that day and who are grateful and support the loved ones of those heroes as they moved foward in their lives.  As unique as we all try to be, it is days like today where we realize just how similar we all are, how similar human nature behaves.  It's day like today when we realize how important it is to put differences aside, to join together for one purpose, and to never, ever forget.

E pluribus unum...and God Bless America.

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