I woke in the middle of the night and looked at my phone, in order to check the time. Two o’clock in the morning, on the dot. But what really jumped out at me was the date, September 11th. Just seeing it there on my phone made me wince. And then I lay there for the next two hours thinking about it, rehashing my memories of that day, and wondering if it was worth writing a blog post about — not because the remembrance of this day might not be worthy of a blog post, but because I doubt I’m a talented enough writer to truly do the day justice.
For me, the words “September eleventh” open my mind to a series of small memories. Mere snapshots of that day and the days that followed.
I remember standing in my bathroom, listening to the radio, leaning toward the mirror to put on mascara when I heard the first newsflash came in. “We’re getting reports that a plane has collided with the World Trade Center.” But they went on to say they didn’t have much info yet. They speculated it had been a small, private plane, perhaps trying to buzz the towers as a prank. They quickly moved on to other news items.
I remember a bit later in the morning, sitting at a stoplight on my way to work when news came in that a second plane had hit. I remember that moment of realizing this wasn’t an accident, and that it was something far bigger and more terrible than I’d ever imagined.
I remember the feeling of shock and numb horror that settled over my office as the day went on. We dragged TVs from closets and storage rooms. We turned on the radio. We barely spoke, but everybody listened. Nobody bothered to tell us that this wasn’t what we were being paid for. I remember one co-worker stopping by my desk, before news of the third plane broke. She said, “This is only the beginning.”
I remember voices. I worked for a large OB/Gyn practice at the time. I operated the switchboard, and all day, I fielded calls from people asking only, “Are you still open?” Because it seemed maybe the whole world must cease functioning in the midst of something so terrible. We had a big photo shoot scheduled for that night. The obstetricians had conceived of a marketing photo of them sitting outside, surrounded by kids they’d delivered, each of them with a baby on each arm. There was a lot of debate as to whether we should go through with it that day, but we’d already rescheduled once, and as I answered the calls from the parents who planned to attend, I heard a note of strength in their voices. I heard their resolve. “Yes, let’s still do it,” they said. Because seeing all of those babies and bright-eyed, innocent toddlers in one place felt like a little light of hope. It felt like something that needed to be done. That photo ended up not being about marketing. It ended up being a quiet celebration of life.
I remember a house near campus. It sits at the top of a hill. It’d been rented to college students for years, as evidenced by the Darth Vader and C3PO cutouts in the window (right next to the pyramid of beer cans). But that day, those students somehow got their hands on one of the biggest American flags I’ve ever seen. They hung it from a tree branch, stretched it taut down to their fence and porch railing. It probably violated one or two rules of flag etiquette, and yet, I doubt anybody minded, because as you drove north on Shields, the flag suddenly loomed huge and bold, only a couple of feet from the street. I remember cresting that hill and seeing that flag as the radio played We’re Not Gonna Take It, a song that was suddenly revived, taken out of storage by DJs everywhere, brushed off, and given new life, not as an anthem of teenage rebellion, but as a declaration of our nation’s strength.
I remember that flag every single time I drive north on Shields.
And like all of you, I remember the images. The bleak horror streaming through our televisions for hours at a time. I remember the deep respect and sympathy we felt for the citizens of New York. I remember trying to imagine how it must feel to look out the window and see the towers burning, or later, to see the empty place where they had been. I remember just sitting there and crying.
But what I really remember is the sudden surge of pride that spread through our nation like wildfire. I remember flags and signs suddenly appearing everywhere. I remember people sobbing through our National Anthem. I remember how those words suddenly meant more to me than they ever had before.
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner
O’er the land of the free
And the home of the brave?
I remember the way our nation answered as one:
Hell yes, it does.