I’m not a sentimental person, believe it or not. I purge things regularly in my house. I don’t generally keep cards or souvenirs of things long past. When I do journal or scrapbook or otherwise record my own personal story, it’s general in the form of reflection geared toward understanding what happened, how that changed me, and what I can take from the experience going forward. The past informs my future, but it has rarely had the power to draw me back to it in a visceral way.
On September 11, 2001, I was getting ready for a job interview at home when the news started reporting about the terrorist attacks in New York. I never watched the news, rarely had the TV on back in those days, so I don’t know why it was on that morning. I remember fumbling for the phone and the number to postpone my interview, calling my husband and my mother-in-law to let them know about it. I remember sitting there in something akin to shock, watching those images and listening to the reports of more planes being taken, of the Pentagon and the people lost in flight in that field in Pennsylvania.
For months afterwards, I tried to put it out of my mind. I moved through life just as I had before, but I was not unchanged by those events. Our world has changed in so many ways since that day, some subtly and some vividly. I found about a year after the event that my writing had changed as well, and wrote a brief poem (a rare thing for me) reflecting on that change.
The Voice Within
I spent today alone but for the silence,
To see if I could still hear the voice within
Or if it had died
Like peace of mind
When the hand of terror touched this land.
I found after a time
The voice still whispered,
In the still places of my darkest self
Where I kept my sense of fear and trepidation
Until they burst the seams that held them in.
The whisperings of my imagination
Unfolded into tales of devastation,
And I put aside the happy endings I had planned,
To write the ever after
My broken heart could stand.
In a lot of ways, those events and the dry period that followed my shock at them, have shaped the stories I have told since. I may never return to completely happy endings. My endings tend to be compromises, a bittersweet blend of joy and sorrow, and that may never change.
Just like the skyline of New York City, there is something inside my own personal landscape that has changed. The horizon is a little darker than it used to be, but every generation has its moments like this – Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy and MLK Jr. assassinations, the World Trade Center. Each one terrible and painful to those who survived them. Each one irreparably changing those of us who were knocked from our customary, safe places in the world by the very existence of such earth-shattering events.
There aren’t any up-sides to things like that, but perhaps there are small, private consolations. Those events help make us who we are. They shape the stories we tell and the children we raise. They give us the power of empathy and compassion. They make the bright spots of life seem a little sweeter. In some ways, the remembrances we take with us join us together – I was alone in that moment, nine years ago, but I am not alone today in my sorrow. What more powerful message can we hope to glean from something so very powerful in our lives?