There are some parts of my past that I don’t revisit very often.
In fact, I spent quite a bit of time in weekly therapy learning how to lift myself up and out of that past and live for my future.
But for Americans, today is all about remembering. And so I allowed myself to go back into my past, to feel all of the interconnected memories, to recall my experience of September 11, 2001.
In September of 2001, I was living in Durango, Colorado. I was a 26 year-old waitress, nervously counting down the days until my wedding the following month. I was awakened that morning by the telephone…not a cell phone, few people had those yet. It was my fiancé calling from work, telling me in a firm and somber voice to wake up and turn on the television. In my half-asleep daze, I fumbled around for the remote control, and asked, “What channel?” He said it didn’t matter, and as my eyes cleared, a smoky image of the Twin Towers came into focus. I clearly remember his shaky, frightened voice saying, “We’re being attacked.” as I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing. I begged him to leave work, which he did, and we spent the entire day, glued to the television in shock and horror and fear, clinging to one another with tears streaming down our faces.
Living in Durango had often felt like living in a bubble. Pretty isolated from any big cities, it’s a tiny, idyllic mountain town in Colorado where it’s easy to lose sight of reality. That day, as terrified as we were as Americans, I had a feeling of safety there, tucked away in the San Juan Mountains. But we had close friends who lived in Manhattan, connections and ties to many people directly affected by what was growing into an unthinkable tragedy. I remember a feeling of helplessness that I wasn’t accustomed to growing up in the United States. It was one of the few times I looked at President Bush in a hopeful light. We needed a leader, and he was it. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if he could please somehow make it better.
I was scheduled to wait tables that night. I assumed that the restaurant would be closed, that the owners wouldn’t open that night, out of respect. But they did. I remember being irate as I walked into work. All of the emotion I had been feeling all day morphed into fierce anger. I glared at the handful of people who rang the bell on the door as it opened. Who would go out to dinner on a day like today? How dare they?! Why weren’t they home, mourning like the rest of the country, like I wanted to be? And then I saw the looks in their scared eyes, their weary faces exhausted from a day filled with horrific images and heartbreaking truths. These people needed comfort. They needed to feel a taste of normal. They needed a smile, a hot cup of coffee, a stiff drink. They needed their community.
I gave away a lot of free drinks that night. I drank a few myself. These people were mourning. We all were. We still are.
Eleven years later, so much is different, impossible to encapsulate in a few sentences on a blog. Our rules for travel are forever changed, our feeling of security altered somehow. Our individual character and overall trust in humanity was challenged. I got married 39 days later. The groomsmen wore American flags pinned to their lapels. Some of my family was absent, too frightened to board a plane. I moved to Utah by November 1 and played newlywed. We got a dog, a German Shepard named Zamboni. We bought a fixer-upper. We celebrated sports victories and birthdays and promotions. There were happy times and a lot of struggles. We ignored significant issues that eroded our relationship past the point of return. I plowed through a difficult divorce, hid in a hole, rediscovered the sun, and now am, again, nervously counting the days until my wedding. I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s been eleven years of LIVING, eleven years of the ups and downs of life. 9/11 is there, in the background of every American’s mind, an indelible piece of each of us. Memories remain, but people begin to heal. Life goes on.
And thank God for that.
We will never forget.