one, two, a few more,
The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.
Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.
There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.
They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.
I can do only two things for them —
describe this flight
and not add a last line."
“Photograph from September 11”
by Wislawa Szymborska
Typically I feel this day coming long before it happens. Summer ends and the fall comes along and September is here, and all of a sudden it’s coming. For those of you who have had the pleasure of reading through twelve of these essays already, you already know my story. 9/11 was the start of any interest I’ve had in politics, the reason I’ve gone to school for it, and the reason I still hold this desire to make the world a better place just by being in it, because there are so many people around who want to do just the opposite.
But this morning I didn’t wake up immediately thinking, “Today is 9/11.” I swung my legs out of my bed, went on twitter while I was waiting for my shower to heat up, and was blindsided by the constant barrage of “never forget” tweets and sentiments.
Had I forgotten simply due to time? It’s been thirteen years. A lot has happened in thirteen years. Elementary school, high school, first loves, breakups, college, grad school, jobs, family problems. Did I forget because while this event was my call to American civic engagement, and still is on some level, I am so disillusioned, sickened, and annoyed by the state of our government and our country and these new wars with new people we will never defeat that I couldn’t really give it a second thought? Did I forget because I simply have other things to worry about? Bills to pay and trips to plan and my brakes squeaking a little bit this morning and what I have planned for tonight and what moves to make on my fantasy football team. Or did I forget because it’s not something that should still be on my radar so often, even though it’s been on my radar since I was 13?
The more I thought of it though, I was reminded of the things I won’t forget.
I won’t forget standing in my socks next to my mom who had just gotten out of the shower, as we were glued to the TV and so unsure about what was happening to our world.
I won’t forget standing at soccer practice that night with my team, the pink and purple sky and hot fall air, and the nervousness I felt whenever a plane flew over.
I won’t forget the way Jon Stewart made my house laugh in the weeks following 9/11, when we didn’t think we’d laugh much anymore, or even that it was okay to.
I won’t forget the time I went to the 9/11 memorial at USD on this date for a moment of silence, and learned that the other girl sitting across from me actually lost her brother in one of the towers. I suddenly felt small, like I didn’t deserve to be sitting there with someone who had directly been affected, and like there was nothing I could do or say to tell her how sorry I was.
I won’t forget how many times I’ve been to Ground Zero with so many different people I love.
Like when I went there in 2007 with Caitlin, Supanna, Rachel, and Lizi. Supanna and I were fighting and it was late and we weary road trippers were tired, but suddenly every other problem seemed to pale in comparison. Construction of the memorial hadn’t really started yet and you could only peek through holes in a fence, but the weight of where we were sat heavy on my shoulders. We wrote our names and our love on a “post no bills” section of the wood planks surrounding the construction site and took a picture to remember it.
And when I went to New York with Jessica in 2010 after we graduated from college. We walked through St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, where a memorial stands, and walked through it silently and not always together. She said it better than I did after the fact, but the sentiment is the same. It was really one of the first times where I looked across the chapel and saw her there, was hit by the enormity of the pain and anger I would feel if anything like 9/11 - or anything ever - happened to the people I love.
And this past March, when I went to the now open Freedom Tower and memorial with Stef during our short stay there. It was the one other thing I wanted to make time for during our trip. It was freezing cold and I still remember not being able to feel my hands or cheeks. But I do remember being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people there, the roaring of the waterfalls in the memorial, and the comfort of having her hand to hold and a hug waiting for me when the power of it all got to me.
We are the 9/11 generation. Every thing that has happened to us and our world has been almost a direct result of the towers falling. It’s the first memory of the “real world” that I hold. It’s the reason why I’ll always think the daytime is just as dangerous as the night, even though I never did before. Why in 2000 I wouldn’t have been freaked out by my plane coming in for landing and then heading out to the ocean like it did this past Sunday, but instead immediately thinking something was happening, even though we obviously just weren’t ready to land. It’s why daytime news filled with bombings and beheadings are essentially boring to us now, and we’ve come to accept it as fact. It’s why thirteen years later, we wake up and operate just like today is any other day, because it is. We aren’t forgetting, this is just how we live now.
With all of that said, do what you can to love today. Hug your parents, squeeze your dog, tell your best friend you love them, call your grandma. Don’t forget to love. If 9/11 has made me remember anything, it’s the least we can do when everything else seems to be falling apart around us.