Friday, September 9, 2011

Where Were You? Where Are You Now? (9/11)

My latest issue of Time came. It was a tribute, a reflection to 9/11. I have to admit I had trouble reading it. I wanted to. I did. I looked at each of the faces in each of the large, black and white photos. I remembered many of those faces, those stories from 9/11. But the larger essays, I just couldn't. I think I've tried to pretend that this attack that took place across the country from me 10-years-ago was something that didn't really affect me. But it really did. Yes, no one I knew and loved died in the either of the Towers or in that field in Pennsylvania nor where they near the Pentagon, but it was my country and reading through Time made me realize how much I really didn't like seeing and knowing this happened to my people. Or to any people. Although I seem to be able to stomach atrocities that happen in other countries easier.

I'm pretty open with my boys about tragedy. We read the morning newspaper together and talk about the pictures and the articles, but I found myself hiding this issue of Time from them. I just didn't want them to feel scared or vulnerable.

My cousin Paula visited us this summer. I hadn't seen her since my wedding in 1999. Since then a lot has happened, and one of those happenings was her experience of being a survivor of 9/11. She was in the basement when the first plane hit. She heard the sound. She saw the second plane hit. She was there. All those clips I saw on the news, she was experiencing first hand. Her apartment was so close to the Towers that she and her husband could not go home. Paula recounted her story for me this summer as we sat in my kids' playroom, ironic location. We sat, her on the couch, me on the chair. I listened. I knew this was her experience, but I had never heard it from her mouth. And actually she is the first person that I've known, met, or talked to in person who was there...the first person in 10 years.

Maybe that is why I'm more sensitive? It opened it all back up again? Or is it just knowing that it has been 10 years. It should not have been that long, right? And at the same time, since it has been that long, why is it a topic I avoid?

I feel like I would be offended if a movie was ever made of the attack. I don't think I would go see it. Is that how Holocaust survivors feel about WWII movies? Is that how the veterans of Pearl Harbor felt when Hollywood made that catastrophe into a romance flick?

Memorials don't create this aversion in me. When my family went to D.C. (1989)and stood silently before the Vietnam Memorial, I know my father was not offended. I saw with my eyes how it moved him.

When I went to Dachau it seemed reflective, respectful, and honoring. Not an easy experience, but one that I'm grateful I have had.

Someday I will take my sons to Ground Zero. I will proudly tell of the heroes and of the brotherhood that was exhibited through this national tragedy.

But for now, I'm just not ready.

9/11 is on a Sunday this year, and I would be very offended if I were to go to church this Sunday and nothing was said, no mention was given, no prayers spoken. I do expect something.

So, where were you? I was 23-years-old, shy of 24 by one week. I was starting my third year of teaching at a middle school. I was driving to work, listening to Z100 when the very obnoxious DJ said something horrifying. I thought it was a crude joke, but the more he talked the more I realized this was for real. I sat in my car in the school parking lot, stunned. I looked around me and all the teachers were just sitting, listening to their radios. We made eye contact and got out of our vehicles, lunch bags in hand. We checked to make sure we were all hearing the same thing.

We walked numbly to our classrooms and each of us turned on the televisions that our school had installed for Ch. 1 News. There it was. The visual of what was happening, playing out before us in real time. I remember the horror as the news reporter shouted that the second tower had been hit. We had students on buses coming to school, unaware. They would be in our rooms in less than a 1/2 hour. What were we supposed to do? Send them home? Watch the news all day? Teach? Our principal called an emergency staff meeting and made the decision that we would address the topic, that during 1st period students could watch the news if teachers chose, but that we would press on and teach as if this was any normal day.

I can't believe that is what we did. I still remember a student named Alex very frustrated that I would not let his class watch the news, but instead made the students review their literary elements. I think this was a coping mechanism. Sometimes I think it was wrong that we acted like everything was normal, but then I try and imagine what a day with 7th graders would have been like watching the news for seven periods straight. That seems like that would have been wrong too.

I remember thinking I couldn't wait to get home and get to my husband, process it all.

After so many days of this, it was all too much, and we all chose to stop watching the replay events. We pushed the normal button and trudged on. Of course, 9/11 never ceased to be the underlining theme of that year (and decade to follow), all the events in the world could be traced back to that moment. Even though we pushed the normal button, normal had changed. Our worldview had been altered.

Where am I now? Then I was 23, no kids, living in community with other young adults, going and doing whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and working full-time.

Now, I no longer live in the metro-area. I have returned to the farm I grew up on. I have three young boys. I am the CEO of my home. I've written a book. I have deep, meaningful relationships, I love my church community of others who are seeking God's truth in their lives, and I have a list of goals and dreams for my life that I see the foundations of being built. Also, I see a world that is hugely connected to one another, a world where if one thing happens in one country it always affects another and another and another. Decision and action should always be considered in length.

So, where were you and where are you now?


Marilee said...

Great post, Rebekah. Well-said; you speak so many of my thoughts about 9/11 perfectly.
On September 11, 2001 I was a sophomore at George Fox. I first heard that the twin towers had been hit by planes from a student I hardly knew during an early morning gym class. It took a long time for the severity to sink in. I remember looking at my feet on the elliptical machine as the realization started to hit. I only had one class that day, with Paul Anderson, and we prayed and reflected and back to life as usual.
Also, I remember my mother accusing me of being too isolated b/c of Fox to really grasp it all. That was when I suggested "revenge" wasn't appropriate. It was certainly an interesting and unique environment in which to experience that heinous tragedy in our country's history.

Cassandra said...

Very thoughtful post Mrs. S, I remember that I was getting ready for school that day and my mom's bf at the time was listening to the radio and starting shouting at me through the bathroom door saying the towers had been hit.. I had no idea what he was talking about, nor did I know what the twin towers were in 7th grade.. I remember going to school, first period, science, mrs. johnstone, she let us watch the news until the bell rang.. After the school day was over I remember looking up into the sky wondering if the next airplane to fly overhead would fall from the sky. When I walked to my neighbor's house I walked as if I didn't want to be seen because I thought for some reason that Lafayette, OR would be the next target..

I was 12 years old, in middle school and had no idea that the towers existed until the news was all over the TV. I think that this event opened my eyes to the world and that we are all connected, as you mentioned in your post.

Now I am 22 years old, a college graduate, married to my best friend from a different country, living in the Portland metro area and would never move back to tiny Lafayette.

Thank you for being a great English teacher!! :)

Rebekah said...

Cassandra, you came into my room that very last block of the day. I loved all my classes that year. I think your year was my favorite year of teaching ever and it happened to be the year of 9/11. I loved reading your thoughts.

Michelle said...

I was sitting on the floor in the living room trying to convince myself to do some yoga when my Mom called and said turn on the TV. I did and I was stunned. I couldn't comprehend what was going on. I called my husband at work and he said it was fine. Everything was fine, send our son to school, just go on like usual. I took my son to school, I went to the store with my daughter and I was struck by how silent our town was, a small town in the Pacific NW far removed from the violence, but we were all hunkered down, holding our breath.

Just an hour later our home phone rang. It was my husbands reserve unit looking for him. I confirmed his cell number, hung up, and waited. I didn't wait long. My husband called and asked me to pack his "spit kit", he was on his way home to get his gear, his unit was called to duty.

My Mom picked my son up from school, our kids drew pictures and slipped them into Daddy's bag, our Pastor came by in time to pray with us, but what I remember most about those few moments my husband was home is the two of us taking the time to tell each other how much we loved each other. I remember thinking if this is the last time I see him, I want him to know our years together have been better than I dreamed, and I wanted him to go off to do his duty without worrying about us, the kids and are would be just fine.

Ten years later, I'm still married to my solider husband, and we've done three deployments. I've learned that I can sleep alone, I can parent alone, I can almost get a winged bat out of my house alone. I've also learned to not take for granted those moments when my husband comes home. You never know what will happen, so enjoy the moment you have.

Rebekah said...

Michelle, your post gave me chills. I think it expressed so well how even though this event took place on the East Coast we really are all connected and events like these effect us all.

Jen Rouse said...

I was at home, doing the reading for my constitutional law class for my senior year of college. (Interesting that I was reading all about the laws concerning civil liberties, considering some of the changes that happened in the wake of that day). Eric had already left for work, and it was very quiet in our little apartment, and I turned on the TV for some background noise--I considered turning on the news but instead opted for the soothing "Little House on the Prairie" reruns instead. Then Eric called from work to tell me what had happened, and I flipped to the news, and I couldn't believe it. I sat and watched until I had to leave for class. I listened to the news on the way to school. My classes pretty much went on as normal.

At that time I worked for my college newspaper and also had a part-time reporting job for the Dallas/Monmouth/Independence paper, so a lot of my experience of it was filtered through the lens of writing articles about it. I was finding local angles, writing about the ways the attacks affected people here, about vigils and blood drives organized in response to it.

Strangely, I think viewing it so much in that light--that writing about it was my job--kept me a step back from it. I reacted to it as a professional, not personally. I didn't know anyone in New York or Washington and I had no personal connection to it. I still to this day feel sadness that the attacks happened, but I've never had much of an emotional response or felt that it affected my life very much. (Though I am sometimes hesitant to admit that--I've had people seem to think I'm unpatriotic or at the very least odd when I admit to not feeling affected by it).

Anonymous said...

Great article Rebekah,
Jen, I appreciated what you said. I think my mom called to tell me to watch the news and I know she stopped by after her day of teaching to hang out with us. We left the TV on most of the day. My oldest was 4 1/2 and still remembers watching it on the news. I had a 17 month old and a 2 week old at the time. My friend brought me a pizza dinner that night in honor of my new baby, she was scheduled to make me dinner but had been watching the news all day also. I relished in my 3rd baby knowing she would be my last. I do remember thinking things would never be the same and she was born right before it changed. I had suffered from post pardon depression before so I choose to really detach myself from what was going on, I didn't want it to get to me and make me depressed along with all the hormone changes that go along with having a baby. So I really focused on my newborn & was in love with her as others were sad for several weeks afterwards. I even took her to the Dr's that day as planned for her weigh in. I don't think anyone at the Dr's office even mentioned it. I'm not sure why, maybe because they could see I was a new mom. Now that baby just turned 10. 10 years later I'm still a mom loving what I do. In some ways not much has changed for me. Accept my kids are at different ages and stages. I think it effects me more now because I'm able to process it more, not wrapped up in newborn, diapers, wondering why my son was so delayed and shortly after finding out he had autism, having fun with my cute 4 year old. Hearing the account from Paula gave me chills. A year ago my husband and oldest daughter went to DC and New York. Seeing their pictures of the 9/11 memorial and hearing their stories that they had learned from the memorial actually made me cry. I don't think I really cried back then, but now I can.
from, Laura Pearce

Rebekah said...

Well said Laura. I loved your honesty in this reflection.