It’s been 5 years. The first two were heartbreaking – still so angry and raw. The last two landed on the weekend, and we busied ourselves (not too busy to remember, just busy enough to not be so sad) with things like going to museums, a hike maybe, I don’t know, food was probably involved.
But this year, this 5th anniversary (isn’t there a better word for the annual recollection of such a horrible day than “anniversary;” a word typically reserved for celebrations and milestones?), is hitting me harder. Not like the fresh pain of the first two, but harder than the last, nevertheless.
Here in Colorado, nearly 2000 miles away from where the towers fell, it feels like any other Monday on the unwavering calendar of corporate suburbia. Long, pointless emails. Missed deadlines. Innane requests. Hirings. Firings. Noddings. Smilings. Does anyone remember, I wonder? Or will today’s significance only be realized in retrospect, when you return home this evening to find your regularly scheduled Monday night programming apologetically interrupted, replaced instead by slow-speed images of the same two planes, the same two towers, again and again and again, from every angle at every speed until you can never look at another photo (even a still shot) of the World Trade Center without waiting for those planes to veer in from the corner, people covering their mouths in shock, dropping roses by the doors of the church, holding up pictures of children and friends they will never see again, reliving their deaths, the images fading in and out in time with the melodic sounds of “America, The Beautiful” or some such composition meant to tug at the collective national heartstrings. Or by George the Fearless, assuring us that, thanks to his loose interpretation of civil rights and well-versed PR team, we are safer than ever from the evil-doers who are out to “take away our freedoms” and “kill our families.”
5 years. That’s all it took – the statute of limitations on dramatizing an already dramatic (and traumatic) event for a live studio audience is officially up. Following in the slippery footsteps of Hollywood’s “Flight 93,” the new ilk of car-wreck entertainment has arrived, and at-home viewers as far removed as Topeka can sit back and watch the events unfold, set to extreme theme music and quickchange, chaotic cinematography a la popular prime time pseudo-crime drama. Box office and made-for-TV alike; the pop culture force has spoken: give it to us in sound bites, with good-looking actors who can convey shock-n-awe at the appropriate moments, precisely before the next commerical break. America, America, God shed his moviemagic lights on thee, we’re hooked!
My morning started with the clock radio alarm, set haphazardly last night to the first FM station the old tuner could pick up. It was playing Spanish music at the time — loud and indescernable, perfect wake-up music. But Spanish music had all but abandoned me by 7:30 this morning, when the alarm blared the commentary played exactly on this morning 5 years ago, a frantic newscaster, “Oh my God, we’ve received reports that a second plane just hit the World Trade Center, a second plane…” and in my morning delirium my heart squeezed up into my throat and it took me a moment to remember that it was a recording. One that I’d heard in some form or another a hunderd thousand times. Why? Why is it necessary to drudge up all these little clips, these movie-trailor lines, the shock, the panic, the emptiness. None of us can forget what happened. Unaided by the instant replay, September 11 is always somewhere on my mind, lurking on the shadowy edges, half-awake. It’s just part of me now.
Only on the anniversaries do I start poking at those sleeping memories with a stick. Not to replay the same two planes melting into the same two towers, the same two collapsing collosal towers, the same people crying and dazed under the ashes of their collegues. I used to think about those things. But now other images come to me. The sound of my Dad’s voice when I finally got through on the phone to say I was okay. The relief I felt when, hours later, all my friends and loved ones had been accounted for. Being allowed to go home. Hugging my husband and brother. The smell of the candles in Union Square Park.
But mostly now, I remember the tiniest sliver of light that shone through that day, when people put aside their issues and tried to help us all make sense of what had happened. Handing out water and food at the other side of the bridge when they finally let us cross. Lining up for blocks to donate blood that, sadly, was never needed. Collecting things like food and boots and cigarettes for the rescue workers and biscuits for the dogs. Hugging strangers for hours at makeshift memorials when the shock started to fade and with it, all hope that any of the missing would return.
It didn’t last long. People were operating outside their comfort zone, farther than an arm’s reach from the protective isolation they’d learn to develop living in New York, and it was bound to break. Back to the rushing, cursing, spitting, shoving, yelling. But it was there. It was. And that’s what I want to remember today. Those first few days. The hope. The collective tragic thread that tied us all, however momentarily, together.
Be a good person today — whatever that means to you. That’s the best way to remember.