* This article contains images and prose that some might find upsetting
For those of us who were old enough, the events of 9/11/2001 will be forever in our minds. Where we were when we heard the news. What was the first thing we heard. When did we realize it was a terrorist attack. When the magnitude really hit us. It is our JFK assassination. 9/11. Nine Eleven. They only have one meaning now. They cannot be said together – the nine – the eleven – without invoking the memories and emotions of that day. It used to mean nine one one (911). Call the police. The paramedics. The fire department. So many firefighters (343) and policemen (60) died that day. Some thought it was the terrorists intention in using 9/11 as the date to goad us. Apparently dates and anniversaries do not hold the significance for the culture of the terrorists as they do for us. It is mere irony that 9/11 invoked an emergency to us before, and memories of that date for us. ‘Mere’ seems like such a fickle word to use in regard to that day. However 9/11 does add extra meaning, extra weight (as if it weren’t heavy enough) to the loses suffered by the emergency services.
Tomorrow is the seventeenth anniversary. For the last week or two I have been close to tears on several occasions. It is worse than the tenth and fifteenth anniversaries.
This year September 11th falls on a Tuesday, just as it did in 2001. The weather forecast tomorrow for Chicago is seasonably warm with sunny skies. The weather in both New York City and Chicago that day was sunny and warm. Picture perfect September days. Will it make 9/11 stick out more than every other year? Or will it be the same.
I found out about the attacks in my small aprtment on the corner of Clark and Fullerton. I was on a summer work visa. Four of the guys with us were due to fly to New York that day. One of us in the apartment received an early morning call from a parent. From Ireland. All the circuits had been busy. They had been trying to call without success. They shared with us the news and we promised we would not go downtown. There were rumors that The Sears Tower might be on the attack list and not all planes had been accounted for at that point. Se asked whoever’s parent was on the line to call the other parents. We spent half an hour trying to get through and finally I talked to my mom for a few minutes. There was a dive bar around the corner. The type of place with peanut shells on the floor, and mostly beer bottles on the bar. We sat alongside Americans, everyone glued to the television. Everyone went from being silent and speaking loudly and back again, depending on what news was delivered. I remember I was sitting by a huge white American guy, throwing back the beers, and staring at the tv in disbelief. He had a backwards facing cap and a bushy beard. We talked together. Solely about what was on the tv, of course. We watched in horror as the South and then the North towers fell to a chorus of “Fuckin’ hell,” “God no,” “Shit. What the fuck,” and on and on. No one shed any tears. The magnitude of the events was just too large to grasp yet.
We stayed in the bar for many hours, watching the same replays over and over. At this stage they were still showing footage of people jumping from the upper level of the towers. They knew their fate was sealed. We will never know what they were thinking before they jumped. Were they chosing to end their lives in a manner of thier chosing? Jumping before fire engulfed them? Stiocally thinking about loved ones? Petrified and desparate? Is it some thing no one should ever go through. A horrendous death. Worse than most others who died that day. People who died when the towers collapsed died almost instantly. People on the floors where the planes hit died instantly. Those on the floors above the planes were the ones who suffered most. I have decided out of respect for those poor souls not to show those images here.
Since the morning was so beautiful: warm and sunny with a light breeze, the bar windows that were wall to wall were fully open. We noticed there were more buses than usually. They were full with people standing. All packed in. Then it dawned on us. It was rush hour in the opposite direction for what you’d expect. Virtually every building and business in downtown Chicago sent its staff home. The 22 Clark and the 36 Broadway buses were bringing people home during the mid-morning. It was such a strange thing to see. Such an insignificant thing on such a day, but something that obviously is part of my memory on 9/11.
My two girlfriends and I worked in the same Irish bar that summer. It was a little west of the downtown area. My friend, Dana*, was working that evening. I can’t remember if we got a cab, if the buses were running, or any of that now useless information. Several of our group of friends went into the bar with Dana. It was very busy. No one in Chicago had worked all day. Everyone had been stuck to their televisions. Now people needed to wind down, or decompress, or just feel some human connection. George W. Bush was not a very popular President. That seems ridiculous now. He addressed the nation. I believe it was at 7 pm Central Time. Once again an irrelevant fact, but it seems so important to remember everything. His speech was powerful, made a lot of us cry due to the severity of it all. Every person in that bar stood behind President Bush. Republican, Democrat and foreigners alike. He was everyone’s Preseident that day.
So much happened after that. The Axis of Evil. The War on Terrorism. The Assassination of Osama Bin Laden. The fall and subsequent death of Saddam Hussein. All these events whether short or long-lived happened. I remember each and every one, plus many more. The shoe bomber. Anthrax. And on and on. I can not remember when each one happened. What I was doing. Who I was with. When I found out. September 11th truly was my generation’s unifying event. I spoke to my kids a little about 9/11 today. The 6 year old knew nothing. She was in the room when the conversation started. I gave her as much as I felt her six year old mind could handle. “Years ago some bad people damaged some buildings in New York and a lot of people died. Lots of people are very sad and angry about it. Today things are safer. There are more rules so things like this don’t happen again.” The 12 and 10 year olds knew the basics of facts. Two planes crashed into two buildings, the buildings collapsed and a lot of people died. For them I went a little more into detail. They asked why there were explosions when the plane hit. My ten year old answered that for his sister. How many people died? 2,977 excluding terrorists. How many terrorists were there? Were there children on the planes? That’s sad… etc. etc. Next year they will know more. My 12 year old asked to see the towers collapsing. I told her I felt she was too young. That you can’t see anyone dying but knowing they are is very upsetting. Neither of them brought up people jumping out of the building. That is something I will probably volunteer for them. They’ll find out eventually. They’ll make their own interpretations. They did ask about airline safety and I told them of any changes I could remember since 9/11. I included Richard Reid the shoe bomber, and that’s why we now take off our shoes. I told them people can’t get into the cockpit anymore, but when I was a kid, some kids were allowed in, and the door was often open for half the flight. I was recently on a flight and one of the pilots needed to use the bathroom. Before he exited the cockpit, a member of the steward staff pulled down a metal half door. A highjacker could get over it if he wanted to, but it was down and the pilot was out and air hostess was in the cockpit very quickly. There has to be two people inside the cockpit at all times. I had never seen that before.
None of us will truly know how are lives have changed because of 9/11. What would the time since that day have looked like? How will our future be different than if 9/11 had not happened. Some people sadly can tell of direct impacts. Loved ones killed. Children. Parents. Spouses. Lovers. Dear friends. I have now lived in Chicago, and the U.S. for fifteen years. I moved here permanently in 2003. I am a U.S. Citizen. A huge scar has been left on our country’s soul. In fact to an extent, worldwide. How long will this continue? Even though there are scant few survivors of The Holocaust, it is still remember with shock and awe. The scale unimaginable to most. Will this be the case with 9/11, in which there were a fraction of the deaths? Will having video of all that happened that day: the plane crashes; the fire fighters going in; the people coming out; watching people jump; watching the towers come down, impress the severity of it on the next generation? People who are twenty now do not remember 9/11. They were three years old. Let’s reframe that. Some adults cannot remember 9/11. Is this a relief? Are they free them from the burden of knowledge. Those who come will learn about this in their history books. Time has moved, is moving on. I’m afraid of forgetting. I know I’ll never truely forget, but the longer it is since the day, the more I feel like I am abandoning the victims. Are we honoring them enough. Those who were in work. At a meeting. Having a gossip over the water cooler. Such normal mundane office occurrences, before the lights went dark forever for them.
Don’t forget them. Even if we remember them once a year. Tomorrow is different than the other 364 days this year. Do something small. Get a neighbor their mail. Offer a friend a ride. Smile at a passing stranger that’s down. Give a few bucks to a homeless person. Let’s make tomorrow about the good things in humanity. Remember the terror, and build the future. Enjoy the beautiful blue sky.