I wasn’t going to write this, but I find myself compelled this morning. It’s my last word on the subject, written on the anniversary of a tragedy so damaging that our nation continues to reel 10 years later.
It started weeks ago, the deluge of photos, videos and news stories streaming though every pore of every media outlet like Saturday night’s booze oozing through Sunday’s church hangover. More than an attempt at remembrance, there is a thick, bitter aftertaste of sensationalism, capitalizing on the 2819 dead for the sake of a good ratings buzz. No station wants to miss this frat party and I can’t scrape the thick paste of distaste from my tongue.
Who can build the better photo montage? Who made the prettiest pie chart to count the dead? Who formed the graphic timeline so we can relive each horrific moment like a college football play-by-play? Who can rehash these tragic attacks in a bright, fresh, new way? ““How Gwyneth Paltrow Saved My Life on 9/11,” although a sincere and gripping account by Summers McKay, is not about Paltrow pulling a woman from the rubble.
Yes, there are lovely stories too, those commemorating true heroes, the healing of families touched by tragedy, and communities banding together to rise up after the fall. My favorites offer hope, like Kantele Franko’s AP article, “Life of Ohio boy born on 9/11 shows new normal.” I want to read more about those children born on 9/11, children free of emotional scars, children who have never suffered under the crushing weight of what the rest of us felt that day. I want more talk about healing, moving forward, and love, not to be tarnishing these children’s beautiful birthdays with this ugly, monstrous event.
I signed on to Facebook this morning to find comment after comment of ”Let us never forget!” I find this insulting. If I could somehow enter my mind with paint thinner and steel wool, that day could never be scrubbed clean from the inside of my eyelids or the beating of my heart. That day has changed the fiber of our being. It has made me – and all those who lived through it – who we are today. Let’s be very clear. We won’t forget.
The other common rallying cry is ”God bless America.” Of those 2819 dead, there were people lost from 115 different nations. I may not believe in God, but I’d like to see that blessing become all-inclusive, recognizing the global terrorism that punches holes in people’s hearts of all nationalities.
Perhaps my angst stems from that awful Darryl Worley song “Have You Forgotten?” For those not familiar, this 2003 hit song promotes hunting down Bin Laden in Iraq (a country having nothing to do with 9/11, Darryl, which you clearly had forgotten) and essentially calls those who protested this unrelated war (like me) unpatriotic. It’s still on every country radio playlist and people continue to heed it as a rallying call against an “evil” of various definitions – often religiously and nationally slanted in an unjust manner.
It also angered me, just a year ago, when I received one email after another calling for my support of New York State license plates featuring the Twin Towers. Wouldn’t a better plan be to live life as close as possible to normal rather than haunting our psyches on every back road and highway in my state? Honoring and constant, unhealthy remembering are two very different things.
When can we finally stop moving backward as a media nation, rehashing and re-slashing old wounds?
If you don’t know me, I was still a flight attendant on that sunny day in 2001. I was in a glass window classroom at 8:30 a.m., cramming for my annual FAA re-certification, part of which covered hijacking procedures and weapons identification. Ironic, I know. I wrote more about that day elsewhere. This is the short version.
I had a perfect view of the World Trade Center and stood with my fellow flight attendants as we watched that second plane hit right in front of us. Our connection with those crews was as engrained as the bond shared between first responders. We were trained to place our lives in each others’ hands and we trusted each other to that end, whether we knew each other or not.
In a fit of panic, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with sobbing co-workers on cell phones begging parents, husbands, children, siblings and dear friends not to jump from the towers burning before us. I couldn’t reach a single family member myself. Fleeing the scene, I crouched, rocking behind a green pickup in a small parking garage as a helicopter hovered over me during the National Security flight groundings. I was overcome with paralyzing fear thinking that “the enemy” was directly above. That’s when the second tower collapsed in my view.
I was forced to fly that following Tuesday or be fired. Plenty of flight attendants had called in sick and warm bodies were needed to man the planes, regardless of mental state. I was young, stupid and did what I was told at tremendous expense to my emotional well being. Silenced by contract, disallowing any public expression of fear or uncontrolled “corporate opinions,” many flight attendants like me mourned beyond society’s view – but for on the planes.
That Tuesday, I returned customers from Halifax, Nova Scotia via Newark, NJ to Birmingham, England. The plane was filled with British parents and children who had been stranded in a sports arena for a week on their way to Disney in Florida. We sat facing one another on take-off. Tears streamed down our cheeks in the dark. The rules had changed. There was no defense against suicide bombers. My uniform stripes meant nothing by way of protection. We all knew that my throat could be slit just for wearing them.
I took a 3-year personal leave the day that flight returned and then, after fully re-certifying, I resigned.
Years of PTSD therapy later, my life has changed in ways I never would have imagined. The healing is complete, but for a rare few adrenaline rushes at inopportune times, and I am happy. I don’t want to relive that event, even through the safe passage of time and through the separation of my television screen. I learned one thing from watching the news for months in search of a single iota of sense. It never, ever comes.
On this tenth anniversary, I will rally for better health care for first responders. Beyond that, I will I honor a decade of striving for health, happiness, healing, purpose and peace by quietly tuning out the hype. I will honor those whose lives were lost by remembering, but also by living, without pause, in the healthiest mental and emotional state I can achieve, loving all of life, all people, and flying in the face of what brought those lives we lost down – for my sake and theirs.
Only this will move us forward.