We remember so many beautiful things so well. A special day with a friend or loved one, the moment a child speaks their love outwardly, joyful hugs after long years, and familiar views after long distances. We are given so many wonderful memories to hold that often comfort us. The day this week holds is a harder memory for some. It is difficult to believe that so many of us here now, were not yet born during 9/11. We are told not to forget, but for many of us, we indelibly can recall it all. It. haunts some that saw too much and none were prepared for how that day would unfold.
For some, it is forever too much to ever speak of, but for those who can, we try to say aloud what we saw and how we felt. To tell our stories of that day to those that were not born, or those still so young those 19 years ago. We share with those that at that time were protected from the sights in life and on television sets. We share our stories so that those not impacted will know what those that lived through that day realize they cannot forget. On this yearly observance of what began as a simple and routine morning, we are given moments of silence to reflect with our thoughts. We choose our words with careful solemnity and speak what we lived that day so that others can understand the gravity and incomprehension of how a beautiful morning could forever change a nation.
Those that did not live through that day will never comprehend the sadness and confusion we as a nation suffered unless they are taught and learn through words and captured visions. Learning from stories is sometimes a softer shield of understanding rather than the same emotion-filled reactions as living it, and this week I am grateful for this gentle shelter. I want the future such as my son, to learn everything that happened that beautiful Tuesday, but I want him to feel he is safe as he reads the past that his mother lived.
I was living in Washington at the time. I woke up early and turned on the news and quietly reviewed my memorandums for the next day. Suddenly, the cadence of the news anchors changed and the calm in their voices seemed shaken. The cameras broke away to live shots, and there I saw smoke thick obstructing the once clear windows of a tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called my mother, a born and bred New Yorker to tell her to turn on the news immediately and then hung up and watched to see what transpired. What I saw on the news next was really too much to comprehend still all these years later. I watched unimaginable pictures of planes and flames and hauntingly worse those choosing to fall to grasp their last breadths of air as they tumbled down we watched in the grief that can be felt when we ached to understand the heartwrenching choices that no one should ever have.
My brother called early that morning and suggested I leave D.C. There were calls in the morning as the early news unfolded until phone calls could not get through and we instead helped and held those that were near us. My friend from college who lived nearby asked if she could go with me out of Washington as there were worries another plane was headed towards another unknown building. We quickly left our homes and drove down the always crowded M Street as people came flying out of their offices knocking on car windows and begging for rides out of the city. There was panic and there was an urgent need to leave before anything else could cause harm.
We crossed the Key Bridge and immediately saw the Pentagon and looked with disbelief as thick plumes of smoke surrounded where the plane had just crashed into it. There was confusion the entire day. When we reached my brother’s house he told us his professor’s had not cancelled class and we heard his friends mull over thoughts of joining the military or leaving school to be near their worried families. We listened to the nation being addressed and we united.
We stood gathered together that night in Washington. We wanted to be around others. There was a sense of safety and unity. We stood shoulder to shoulder in parks, in places of worship, and in private homes. We did not want to be alone. We needed each other to talk to and hug and allow tears to fall without words after what we had just all endured.
The next morning I drove my friend to a metro station near the still smoking Pentagon for her to return to work and return to the normalcy they were calling for. There was no sense of safety and so much worry as we watched for days those in tears looking for their lost loved ones. My own Uncle Ritchie was missing from the 86th Floor of 2 World Trade Center. We were stunned and unsure of where to go or what to do. I left Washington for New York to be with my family and to wait for him to be found.
It was surreal and unimaginable. For those living in the areas of New York and Washington, there was a true sense of panic and palpable uncertainty of what we should do and where we should go. Life plans were instantly altered. Families and friends prioritized, careers rethought to help humanity over personal gain. As a law student, I went back to school expecting the strict expectations of reciting cases and analyzing issues but instead sat stunned as professors spoke aloud about their doubts in their careers and their hopes for us in the future. All those that lived through that day cannot forget. That day changed so many lives and previous plans were rethought and new ways of life begun. We remember because we learn from retaining the past. We were individuals that morning, but after those events, we were united as one.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com