Remembering the Day the World Wept


On September 11, 2001, at six in the morning, I rose and prepared for work like millions do. Living in Alaska–Fairbanks–meant we were four hours behind the East Coast. I recall the TV blaring in the background as I finished up in the bathroom. I recall thinking about what to wear.

I recall hubby Don’s gasp of, “Oh, my God.”

And I stepped into our room, facing a nightmare on TV.

At first, I thought it must be a movie, because nothing I saw on that screen could possibly be real. Alaska Time meant it had already happened, that what I saw was an endless loop of terror and pain, of unimaginable horror several hours old. It took a while for this to sink in, for the images on screen to clear and solidify into something real. When it did, I found a depth of shock within that to this day, seventeen years later, can still render me breathless. To think it could happen here, in the US. We’re strong, aren’t we? Powerful. Smart and savvy. Forward-minded, ahead of our time.

Vulnerable to what can hurt and cause destruction, just like anyone else.

9/11 made us stop and consider all we have done wrong as well as right. It brought the country together even as it seemed to break down the fiber of our belief in our own impenetrable will. For weeks, months afterward, I saw US flags everywhere. On the antennas and windows of cars. Displayed on flagpoles, taped to windows on homes and businesses alike. Slogans, songs, oaths of loyalty to friend and family, to strangers. Tears. Brave smiles and therapy for those who couldn’t get a handle on what had happened.

One of my dear friends who lives in the city happened to be staring out the window of her high-rise apartment building, drinking coffee, when the first tower was hit. She watched it fall, shaking violently, screaming in denial. Far enough from the towers not to experience the horrible backlash of explosion, but close enough to see it, to agonize over those she knew lived and worked in that destroyed path.

She remained in therapy for years, until she found a way to deal with it.

Throughout it all, the images of agony and hope, of strength bolstering weakness, came at us in the news and newspapers, magazines, talk shows, until there was nowhere to turn without seeing reminders. Of what we lost. And, thankfully, of what we gained.

Some may think we lost far more than we gained, but I don’t. Because we as a people found a way to connect, to suffer through, to rise above; to do it with compassion and aid for those who broke the hardest. And it sure isn’t a perfect world, now or ever. But the important thing to remember, above all else: when we need each other most, we do shine. Maybe not for long, and probably not a tenth as hard as we really should. But it’s there, and it grows.

That’s what I believe the most. It grows.