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Talk of the Nation today was about the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The question put forth was this, paraphrased from my memory: "What emotion still lingers for you from the experience of 9/11? What feelings will not let you go?"
People answered as you would expect: fear, sadness, anger, the desire for revenge. Those feelings and emotions have stayed, for so many of us. For me too. I, like all of you, remember so distinctly that morning. I was giving my boys a bath; Rick had already left for work. He called mid-morning and told me to turn on the TV. That's how I heard what was happening, and that scene stays with me.
I got the boys out of the tub, dried them off, my beautiful 3 and 1 year olds, and smelled their clean, soft hair and skin. I held them, cuddled with them, and watched them roll around with each other in their towels. All the while, I cried in disbelief as I watched the terrible pictures. I did not keep the TV off; maybe I should have to shield them from the pictures. But I couldn't NOT watch.
And each year, I feel the same way. I can't NOT remember. I can't NOT honor the anniversary by listening to stories of what happened to people that day. I think we all should mark the day this way, so that we always remember, never forget. What will we do if someday there are "9/11 deniers," just as there are Holocaust deniers today? It sounds ridiculous, but I likely will not be surprised if it happens in 60 or 70 years.
One of the guests (or callers, I can't remember) on TOTN today described the two things that stay with him from that day. The first was shock. He still feels the palpable shock of disbelief that the things that happened actually did happen. The second was profound: the thing that stays with him is the way strangers began to reach out to one another. He described being in Union Station in D.C. shortly after the attacks, talking with strangers, both American and visitors from abroad, and experiencing a connection with them that was borne of shared tragedy.
This struck me. It is true: we all heard the amazing stories of how New Yorkers came together to help and support each other. We forged those same connections in our various cities and towns across the country. The horror of those events stripped bare any pretense, any separation, any petty differences that on an ordinary day would have kept us in our own worlds, apart from strangers, intent on doing the day's tasks and taking care of our own. That day, we all became our own. We all became the shoulders we needed; we carried each others' hearts. Those of us who were not victims that day -- our loved ones did not die -- still wept and prayed and hurt along with those who were.
That unimaginable tragedy showed us how to live that way, to live straight from the raw, troubled heart and to simply be present to anyone who was suffering.
Out of such chaos, this thread of care and love began to weave across the country. It became the blanket that has brought about any healing that has been possible for the people who lost so much. And each year on the Anniversary, if we listen to the stories and let those awful feelings descend upon us again, we have the chance to keep that thread alive.
We all have such busy lives. We do not live that raw, stripped bare life every day: no one could, or should. But the memory of 9/11 does offer us the chance to live that way at least for a little while, to see the people around us, strangers and friends alike, as people with whom we share a common history and common feelings of grief, fear, and need.
To have this be something that stays with us from 9/11 is a great gift. Let us never stop telling the story of the planes flying into buildings and into a Pennsylvania field. Let us never stop telling the stories of the heroes who helped us that day, of the families who lost someone that day, of the struggle to rebuild cities, lives, countries. Those stories will keep us together, and together is exactly where we should be.
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