Add My Story to the Pile–10 Years Later, Wiser Eyes

Maybe I shouldn’t do it.  Maybe I shouldn’t add my words to the millions of words spoken…  the thousands and thousands of stories shared on blogs and Facebook messages and CNN/Fox news pieces.  We all have a story from that day.  And sometimes I feel silly sharing my little one when so many lives were devastated in earth shattering ways that day.  Sometimes it feels like the obligatory sharing time.  And surely none of the words I could say would be anything new.

But I’m sad today in a way I didn’t expect to be sad.  I’m a little bit wrecked really.  I thought I would go on like normal and feel irritated at the news and the media capitalizing on that day of infinite tragedy.  I thought I would consider it momentarily and go on.  But I’m not…  I’m remembering that day.  I’m thinking of the last ten years.  My heart is surprisingly heavy.

My experience that day was small in the grand scheme of things.  I was in college and up early for routine blood work at the hospital.  I’d find out later I was anemic, which upset me because I so wanted to give blood and DO something.  The sun was shining–so many people are remembering the sunshine from that day.  Today is another day where all over the country the skies are an impossible blue.  I had some time to kill before I went to class.  I was a Junior, 20 years old, and I barely had my feet under me.  I went to sit in one of the circles and Ella Peters was there.  I loved Ella Peters.  She was the wife of the Math Department Head and she did a lot of the gardening on campus it seemed purely for the love of it.  I greeted her brightly with a ‘good morning!”  And she said, “Good morning.  Only it isn’t a very good morning is it?”  I asked her why she said that and she told me that she’d heard news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  I was troubled and wondering why this had happened.  I assumed it was a small plane and a terrible tragedy, but I certainly didn’t dream it was a terrorist attack.

I went to class and Ms. Rich, my adviser, was shaken.  She tried for a few moments to go over the material for the day before telling us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and dismissing us all in stunned silence.  I went to the student union and by that time the second plane had hit.  CNN was on all the TVs and people were saying that this was almost certainly an act of terrorism.  We gathered and huddled and couldn’t tear ourselves away from the news. A special prayer service chapel was held and the words of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” sustained me.   Later there would be speculation and pontification and professors making it all a ‘teachable moment’ in typically predictable college-campus ways.  We tried to make sense of it.  We tried to make sense of what was to come.

A year and a half later my then fiance enlisted in the United States Navy.  He had planned to even before the attack, but 9-11 strengthened his resolve.  After we were married and he was away at boot camp I remember asking some military spouses I’d met online if they were scared with their husbands serving in the military in a post 9-11 world.  All of us said yes.  All of us were scared and all of us were proud.  I’m still friends with those ladies.  Our husbands have done countless deployments collectively.  The toll on marriages and families has been steep.  Of the lines that have collected on our faces after these last ten years, many have a direct relation to the realities of being military spouses in a nation at war.

I don’t know why I’m so tearful and shaken today, but it has indeed been a time of reflecting.  So much has happened since that day.  It seems that, for me at least, it was the beginning of the eroding of my insulation from the belief that bad things didn’t happen to ‘us’ or to ‘me.’  It was a day when I truly began to grow up.  I don’t mean that in a cynical way.  As I remember back to that day and the days that follow I remember just how much all of us–ALL of us– were really shaken and grief-stricken.  In the ten years that have followed life has gone pretty much back to normal for most of us.  Those who were affected most deeply by the losses that day and those in the military have it constantly in the forefront of their mind, but the it seems like the rest of the country moved forward and found ‘normal’ fairly quickly after the event.

Still I think something shattered for all of us.  Innocence and invincibility.  Insulation from heartache.

This morning, before I was awake and remembered what day it was, I had a dream about my mother.  It wasn’t a comforting hug you and make you feel better dream.  It was the kind of dream I thought my brain was done with.  She was sick and she was hurting and I was helpless and it was like it was happening all over again.  I woke up hurting and tender and missing her.  Her death was the second event that eroded my sense of insulation from suffering and my belief in invincibility.  I wasn’t left with a gaping hole of personal loss on that day in September, but my life found one a few years later.  It’s been six years now and the hole is still there.  I function around it and don’t think about it most of the time, but every so often I step wrong and find the edges of that hole all over again and the rawness and loss bubble up once more.

And the third event–the third thing that woke me up and grew me up and opened my eyes to the reality that we will ALL suffer–ALL of us–at some time or another, in some capacity or another–was the tumor I was diagnosed with last year.  2 to 8 persons per million per year diagnosed and I was one of them.  The needle in the haystack.  While my physical journey has been relatively easy, the emotional whiplash has left me reeling.

We are not immune.  We are not immune because we are Americans.  We are not immune because we are Christians and pray.  We are not immune because of the sense of denial we are all able to exist in most of the time.  Sorrow and suffering can come knocking on our door–collectively as a nation or personally–at any time.

My 9-11 story is just one among the masses.  We all have stories of the twists and turns our lives have taken since that day.  In ten years joy and sorrow have visited us all and on days of reflection we see it all that more clearly.

I grew up that day.  I grew up a little more on July 19, 2005 when I lost my Mom and a little more on June 18, 2010 when the doctor called with my diagnosis.  I’ve grown up because of the realities of having a husband in the Navy serving when our nation is at war.  These have been growing up years and years of recognizing that none of us are immune.  And in the light of all that, the question I’m left asking is this:  Knowing that, how then are we going to live?


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