It seems impossible that we are coming up on the 10th anniversary of September 11th. Eleven years ago, September 11th would have been no different from any other day, but ten years ago, September 11th became a day that will forever be set apart. Not one of us can hear September 11th without mental pictures of planes and collapsing buildings springing unbidden to our minds.
I remember that I worked nights at Blair on the telephones. I know that I went into work on the evening of September 10th, and I came home on the morning of September 11th, got two kids off to school and then went to bed just as Tim was getting up. It was all so very normal.
I fell soundly asleep only to be awakened by the sound of Tim's feet running up the stairs. My first conscious thought was, strangely enough, "Why is that plane flying so low?" I was wide awake before he even opened the door. "We're being attacked," he said, and back down the stairs he went. I sat there in bed, befuddled, wondering why I would have thought about planes. I don't believe in ESP. I think the more likely explanation is that even soundly asleep, I was subconsciously processing information from the television that I couldn't consciously hear from my bedroom.
I got up and Tim and I spent the rest of the day wide awake on the sofa watching the events of that horrible day play out, just as millions of other Americans did. I remember being afraid for my children, being afraid of what the world was becoming. I did not think that our world would ever again bear any resemblance to 'normal'. Normal was before September 11th.
I remember that when I went to work that night, I was exhausted because I had not slept. I figured that the phones would be dead. They weren't though. They were busier than usual. I remember one call from New York City, from Manhattan no less. The man was angry. He had paid for express shipping on his package, and had been told to expect it on September 11th. It had not arrived.
I listened, just a little incredulously. He was quite upset, but finally I got a chance to speak. I said, "Well, I don't know if you're watching TV right now, but it is quite possible that your package will not arrive for a while, and this is not the fault of UPS or Blair. Things are pretty chaotic."
There was a long pause. He said, almost wistfully, "I know. I guess I knew that. I just wanted to hear that my package was on its way, that it would arrive tomorrow or something. I just wanted to hear that everything would be back to normal soon."
I answered, "We all do, I think." The phone call ended with kind and consoling words.
There was a lot of kindness in those days. I remember one call I took, from ground zero. I could hear the sirens in the background even a full month later. The call came from a little restaurant that stayed open to feed the emergency workers at no cost. A homeless man had begun to stop in daily to get a free meal. There was no hostility, no judgment of his worthiness to receive that hot meal. Instead, the weary emergency workers had taken up a collection. The restaurant owner was calling (in the wee hours of the morning) to place an order for a warm coat, gloves and boots for the homeless man.
It seemed like we were all kinder to one another in those days. We were afraid, and we drew close.
Ten years later, amazingly, our world has returned to normal. We mark the day and we grieve for the 2,996 who died, and then we go back to our business. That is the American way, I guess. We take a deep breath, and then we march on. It takes courage to do that, to pick up the pieces and continue living. I have read some amazing stories people who lost loved ones that day, stories of triumph, stories of courage, stories of legacies created to honor those who died.
If I had any wish, I guess it would be that we could all take a moment to remember this: September 11th changed the lives of thousands of people whose lives were connected with the lives of the 2996 who died that day. We can honor those folks by realizing that all around us, every single day, somebody's life changes dramatically. Somebody faces a tragedy. Somebody grieves. Somebody dies.
We can all pray to God that we never see another tragedy on the scale of that awful day ten years ago, but we need to be mindful of the small tragedies around us. We need to comfort the people around us. We need to help where we can. We need to love one another, because we don't know what tomorrow will bring.
I wish that could be the legacy of September 11th.
Debby Hornburg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.