Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 Years Later

It will go down as one of those moments everyone talks about until almost a century has passed. It falls in line with some of those other pivotal moments in our history: the attack on Pearl Harbor; the assassination of Pres. Kennedy; and now, 9/11. I was at work in my temporary office because my department was undergoing renovations. My co-worker and friend AK called me in tears from home; she had not come in because of a migraine. We all started looking up news sites on the Web, and we turned on TVs in our various departments. We watched in horror as the rest of America did, at the footage of the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers, as well as the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and then watched in disbelief and in tears as we watched as the Towers fell. It was incomprehensible how any of this could have happened, and in some ways we probably all still wonder how it was even possible. 15 years later...we have moved on and we know that nothing has been the same ever since. I still feel as if there was a wave or rupture in the time-space continuum on that day. People say we lost our innocence. This is true. But we also realized our own mortality on a global scale, but both for bad and good reasons. Despite the tragedy we came together and we supported one another across the world. We got through it. Because, despite all the pain and anguish we may go through in our lives, we prevail and we move on. It is the human spirit to move on. But we do not forget and we ache again and again as we remember those who perished on that day, unwilling victims of a terrorist massacre and willing heroes who rushed to their aid knowing they themselves may not survive.

On that day all those years ago, a state of emergency was called across the nation. I was still living in Florida, and it was my job to oversee building security and related issues at the FAU Library. I announced over the PA system, calmly, that the library and campus was closing, that the governor had declared a state of emergency. People were confused, some not even aware what had happened, but we emptied the library and vacated the campus, and then with frustration sat in traffic for over two hours trying to get home. But once we were there, we sat and stared at our TVs non-stop, tears in our eyes for days to come. For us in that area the next few days and weeks held other surprises for us. The terrorists had been living in Coral Springs, less than 15 minutes away from where I lived. Even more shocking, they had used our library and our computers in Boca Raton and they may have plotted some of this attack right in front of our very eyes, and we had had no idea. Innocence indeed.

Reflecting back on those days, it seems surreal, not just because of all the events that unfolded that day and afterward, but because since then, 15 years have passed, and I am stunned into silence to think about everything that has happened in my own life since then. I have experienced great sadness and painful death more raw and more personal than I did when I grieved on September 11, 2001. But I have also experienced incredible love and true companionship, and I have accomplished many personal triumphs along the way. It is true: we do prevail, we do move on. As it should be. With death comes life; with tragedy comes hope; with destruction, rebirth.

It was five years ago that I visited the 9/11 memorial fountains that had just opened. This morning AA and I went down to the waterfront along the Hudson River in Jersey City for a walk. We knew it was 9/11 and that anniversary events would be taking place. But somehow it didn't occur to us that events would be happening here in JC as well, so we stumbled on the beginning of these events and spent time with many others commemorating this day. I took the photos you see here. The image above shows the Freedom Tower in the center distance while the memorial ceremony took place before us. We are literally right across from where the Twin Towers once stood, their presence replaced by this single tower of rebirth and renewal, their invisible presence still felt by all those who remember the old skyline. The second picture you see here was at the other end of the avenue, where two firetrucks raised their ladders to unfurl this enormous American flag, which blew in the wind and reminded us of our strength and how we have survived, rebuilt, and moved on. But still we do not forget, and as we are home now and on TV downstairs they read the names of the victims once again, we know that all of these poor souls will not be forgotten. Similarly, all the victims of other terrorist attacks around the world will not be forgotten, from the attacks in Paris to the massacre in Orlando. It is our human spirit to commemorate and remember, but it is also in their memory that we must go on.

In the end, today for me is about life and living. This is a day to honor and remember all those we have lost throughout history and time, due to warfare, hatred, anger, sickness, poverty, famine, illness, accident, and natural causes. I struggle when I hear others perpetuate anger and hatred and fear and judgment, because at my core I am a pacifist. So today I try to focus instead on remembrance and honor, a day to commemorate all those we have lost in the spirit of humanity, love, and peace.

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