11 September, 2006

Nine-Eleven Essay

Today the flag that hangs from our dining room flapped above the windowsill. Those colors reminded me of September 11, 2001. As a child I often wished I lived during a momentous time, a time that my children and their children's children would remember and ask me about. On that day, I realized I was living history.

I was in tenth grade, aged sixteen. That semester I volunteered as an Office Helper in the Principal's Office, doing simple things like delivering and sorting mail, and eating the secretary's candy. It was a Tuesday, and I was excited about my latest ceramic piece. As I walked toward the office, I could see through the window that the entire staff was watching the doorframe. Curious, I went in and turned around to see. The TV hung innocently above the door, projecting images that will never leave me. A skyscraper was billowing smoke and flame. Next to it stood its sympathetic, unblemished twin scraper.

I watched silently with the rest of the staff, not sure what was happening or why it was so significant that it would pull a man like Dave Helinski away from his duties for so long. "What a sad accident!" was one of the first phrases that came to mind. The TV announcers, for once completely out of the camera's view, sounded stunned and spoke little. I learned that the skyscrapers were in New York City, and they had just started to broadcast the incident. No one knew much, so the announcers would repeat themselves and repeat footage quite often.

I sat down and pulled out a notebook, still feeling unaffected and distant from the scene. I glanced again at the TV just in time to see another plane, this one deliberately attacking the other skyscraper. Now I was shocked. Surely there were people in there who would die! Why would a pilot do such a thing? The bell interrupted my thoughts and I senselessly moved to my next class. There I sat, passive, absorbing nothing of the class.

I arrived home to see the TV screen repeating the plane's impact and the dust billowing. I learned that the Pentagon had been attacked, and a plane had hit the ground a few miles away from where I lived. Then came the collapse of the twin towers.

At the time, I felt very little emotion. I was stunned of course, but neither angry nor excited. A bit sad, perhaps, but I still had a life to live. Five years later, as I view the images for the first time since, I feel a terrible, deep, bitter sadness that I doubt will ever leave me. Anger pushes underneath the sadness. Consternation blinks away tears. I do not understand, but I react. I must. My country has changed so much in that time.

I could never watch any of the movies produced about the events of September Eleventh. The memories are too raw to be rubbed again. The songs and the pictures are enough to make my eyes smart. The stories published since then of the people who died helped me realize how personal mass destruction is, regardless of how emotionally or geographically close to it I am. I've learned so much in that time.

Maybe some day my grandchildren will tell me hypotheses that someone in the United States knew about the attacks and ignored the threat, or perhaps even encouraged it. How will I respond? When I suggested to my grandparents that President Roosevelt knew that Pearl Harbor would be attacked on December 5, 1941, they both rebuffed me harshly. Now I understand why. I have my own national disaster to remember and protect.

It's interesting how real history becomes when one realizes the significance of their own personal contact with it. And how current events become sharper, more poignant, and real. How sad is Darfur? It's not cold, and faraway, and dreamy any more. It's real and painful. Just like September Eleventh.

How many of them know the gospel? How many can hope through their pain? Why don't they know? I must share! They must know! How can I not tell them?

1 comment:

Wes said...

powerful, very powerful. Although I was much younger than you, I remember the day in extreme detail too...