Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 A Complex Remembrance

As an American, today has to be one of the hardest days of the year to get through. For those who lost loved ones, getting through is not possible on any day of the year. Collectively, it is a day that has tremendous power. Prior to 9/11 I had not encountered an historical event on this scale. My generation had been fairly lucky....we were born after or at the end of Vietnam, the only other war we knew of was the first Gulf War. There were no moments in our decades that produced this level of collective grief and remembrance. After the events of that horrible day, our existence of feeling safe on American soil was over - and our view of world events would be forever altered.

The power of this day is complex. Not long after the event, they removed the images that we had obsessively watched for weeks. We fought this decision, and still do to a degree, but since the removal, we were able to mentally and emotionally return to a semblance of normal life. Every year, I am starkly reminded of the contrast of feelings from September 10th to September 11th. We fight on daily both through politics and war, but we live without the constant reminders of that day. However, when September 11th roles around each year, the images return, and with them, the complex emotions.

We are immediately transported back to a time and place that we can only bear to remember once a year. The images themselves resurrect such powerful emotional responses: fear, anger, intense grief, shock, patriotism. Sadly, in other parts of the world, these images bring happiness and cheers. This contrast in world emotion is why this is such a complex and powerful memory. The entire world witnessed it as it happened, and the entire world grieved or celebrated depending on which pocket of society the cameras happened to film. On either side, this is an event that we have all vowed never to forget.

Ironically, the three thousand we lost nine years ago were only the beginning of the lives that would be lost worldwide and continue to be lost because of radicalism and unadulterated hatred. President Bush described it as 'evil' all those years ago, and he was correct. Despite the political spin that has been put on all of the complex events that spiraled out of that horrible day, and still continue to spiral, I believe in good overcoming evil. Regardless of your views on how evil or good America has acted over the years, her people have collectively stood for and prayed for good, and in the end, we have always exhibited good when it counted. I pray we never lose sight of the good we can achieve and the Republic on which we stand. Our freedoms are worth fighting for and dying for.....although I'm ready for the day when the world recognizes the value of freedom, and the dying for this honor can finally stop.

We choose to remember this day for the loved ones lost, and the many heroes born out of those tragic events, as we watched, helpless. As historians and genealogists, it is also vitally important to remember our own personal memories of that day. We have a responsibility to pass down our experiences to the next generation so they may never forget this day - in all of its complexity of meaning!

For that reason, I join with my fellow GeneaBloggers and record my own memories of that morning:

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was working at the University of Kentucky's William T. Young Library. It was a normal morning, and I was working on sending some book requests out to neighboring libraries throughout our state. The first word we heard was from our department head who was out due to illness. She called our office to tell us a plane had hit the World Trade Center in NYC. We were a little surprised at this call, but kept working because in our minds, we visualized a small plane hitting a tower on accident. We could not begin to grasp what had just happened. Not long after that, my Mother, at home on the farm in Bourbon County Kentucky, called my personal line to tell me the same thing, but she sounded much more upset. I still could not understand why everyone was so hysterical. Plane crashes have happened before, and no one had ever called to interrupt work prior to this day. While she was on the phone with me, I could hear my uncle in the background shouting about something, and my Mother told me that another plane had just hit the towers. I can remember my Mother asking if my uncle was sure, and he was shouting that he just saw it hit.

With my Mother's phone call I decided to get online and check out the national news sites for more info. This was the step that concerned me: all of the major news organizations had placeholders for their sites that said the traffic was too heavy and no one could get through. I kept refreshing and CNN finally put up a photo with their traffic notice - it was a photo of the towers with smoke billowing into the sky.

Soon to follow was another call from my Mother telling me the Pentagon had been hit. I remember freaking out a bit at that moment - complete with audible gasp and turning to my co-workers about the newest development. My memory is a tad hazy at this point because soon after, the Library began broadcasting a live TV news feed into the auditorium so we could see what was happening. As a department, we filtered down there one by one when it was convenient - after I got my courier bags packed - and watched in silence at the news coverage.

I remember the concerned faces of those around me, but I have to say I could not watch the screen very much. At this point in the coverage, the film crews were still zooming in on the people trapped at the top of the burning buildings. When they zoomed in on a woman in a skirt that jumped, I could no longer watch.....I had to leave.

It was surreal the rest of the many reports coming through. We worked the rest of the day, but the e-mail was flying. I had a cousin that lived in NYC, and we were e-mailing family members trying to see if she had been accounted for. I had a dear pen pal in Germany, a young boy at the High School age, and he sent me an e-mail that tore at my heart. He said he and all of his friends were crying for America and that this was the worst thing he had ever seen.

I can also remember my co-worker sending me a link to a naval site posted and maintained by navy wives.....detailing the movements of our Aircraft Carriers all day. As each new report came in....we were riveted. Finally the news agency sites were back up and we could review video of what had happened that morning. I will admit we did not get much work done the rest of the day, and some people went home out of shock, grief, fear, or needing to learn about loved ones in NYC. But for me, I think I was in shock.....I could not absorb what had happened. I watched every report, but almost in a detached manner. In fact it was not for a couple of days that I could eventually cry over the enormity of what had transpired. Once I cried, I remember it being intense, and from then on, every new report about our heroes and victims brought a new tear very easily.

Beyond that day, I can remember well the days that followed. The memorials, the change in shipping rules to Washington D.C.....some of which are still in-tact today. The anthrax scares, the apprehension that this could be repeated....would we ever be safe again?

For posterity, I printed out all of my e-mails from that day to keep alongside the tactile memorials we all kept, such as newspaper headlines, etc. I packed them away and have only looked at them once....when moving to a new house. They are full of memory triggers that, like the anniversary every year, produce a very nauseating feeling in my stomach. It was horrible and an event that has shaped our future path into something we had never thought possible.....but it is important that we remember.....and indeed never let the future generations forget.

One of my favorite pieces in my 9/11 memory box is the published speech that President Bush gave to the American people that night. When remembering history, I love doing so with as many primary sources as possible. The video below is the audio of his speech set to the song that none of us can listen to without being transported back in time to 2001.

With prayers and tears:



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