11 September, 2007

Once Again...

I'm with HFS on this: I don't want to talk about it and remember it all, especially this year... and in the middle of the circus and political insanity of the Petraeus-Crocker testimony on Capitol Hill, which seems twisted beyond words when contrasted with the knowledge that we thought was stamped on our very hearts only six years ago. I was right: it just gets harder.

In 2005, I wrote in a comments section on this blog:

I remember (in my mind and body) the places I went that day: the bagel store, the classrooms, the people I spoke to, my class schedule that day, standing in the hallway dialing and redialing my mother on the pay phone. I know which computer I sat at when I finally had the chance to sit down and read the news. I can see the positions of my classmates as our Australian teacher expressed her heartfelt sympathy, and suggested we watch and think carefully, for our world had changed. I remember stepping off the curb just after a bus passed that afternoon, and realizing in that instant that I couldn't have been trusted with my finger on the military "button," because in a moment of uncharacteristic rage I would've leveled Afghanistan (already being whispered as the origination point).That day just rearranged my place in this world and my understanding of what it meant to live as an American (no more ignorant safety, no more isolationistic tendencies), and I looked ahead to a life of living in wartime.
It still applies today. I still remember, and I hate the memories. The memories below are from a repost, but it was first written in 2005 when I had a slightly different readership, so I thought I'd share...

On the first anniversary of 9-11, I participated in the Rolling Requiem, a world-wide chain of performances of Mozart's Requiem conducted in memory of those who had died that day. Each performer in the event wore a heart-shaped tag with the name of someone who had died in the attacks. I wore the name of Richard P. Fitzsimons over my heart. Afterwards, we wrote a note on our tag, and the tags were collected for distribution to surviving family members.

Participation in the Rolling Requiem was emotionally much harder than I had expected. Surprisingly, it packed a physical punch. When I started to sing, I found that getting a deep breath was difficult, as it seemed that the tag over my heart was pressing down on me. I wanted to rip it off; it was suffocating. I told myself I must be losing my mind, and tried to believe it was just melodrama on my part. But I couldn't convince myself I did not feel that weight. I finally said to myself, "The families of these people are carrying a lifelong burden, you can bear that burden for an hour." And so I did. But I was so relieved to take it off when we were done.

I was safe and sound that day in 2001, and I lost no one I knew in the attacks. But in a split second my view of the world shifted to a new axis. Here's what I wrote a couple days after the Rolling Requiem, in response to a question about my memories of 9-11...

Unlike someone who either watched the news as it unfolded, or awoke on the West Coast and pieced together the news bit-by-bit, I received almost the whole news in the span of about 30 seconds.

Though a student at a Midwestern music school, I have more in common with a typical absent-minded professor. On that infamous day, I got confused about the starting time of my first class, which involved learning the trumpet. I had left home before 9:00 eastern time and arrived via public transportation early for my class, so I had heard no news.

I settled down for a little practice before classtime. I had no watch, but after a while I sensed that class should have started already. I stuck my head out the door and asked someone what time it was. Suddenly a professor came running down the hall very agitated because her computer was down and her radio was broken. She said something about hoping to find information in the library. I thought this was a little strange, but I was still very focused on practicing. I returned to the classroom.

When my teacher arrived, she apologized for being late (as was the only other student attending) by saying, "It's been a strange morning." I said it had been the same for me (referring to my time confusion). She said, "It's unbelievable, isn't it." Neither I nor the other student (who had been in a 9:00 eastern-time class) knew what she was talking about. She then told us a plane had hit one of the WTC towers. We were both horrified and said, "What an awful accident!" She said, "Wait, there's more." She had seen the second plane hit live. As we were attempting to wrap our brains around that, she said, "There's still more," and told us about the Pentagon. Then she told us about the rumor of a bomb at the State Department, and of the several planes that were at that time still unaccounted for. My classmate and I were literally speechless. We couldn't form coherent sentences. We just babbled and stuttered and stared at each other.

None of us knew what to do other than to somehow keep moving. So we picked up our instruments and started to play. Concentration was almost impossible, but we plodded ahead, stopping occasionally for incoherent exclamations of shock.

It was over an hour later before I had access to a campus computer to find more information. The first headline I saw said, "WTC Tower collapses." I stared at it trying to understand what that meant. The picture of it in mid-crumble did not make it more real. As I clicked on various stories and began to read, I kept going back to that picture to make sure I hadn't imagined or misunderstood it. As I read, the story of the other tower's collapse was posted. At first I thought it was another story about the first tower. It was all more than I could comprehend. I printed out several articles to take with me so that I could find a quiet place to try to read.

Professors in the rest of my classes either gave us time to talk or cancelled classes compeletely, knowing our minds were elsewhere. By midafternoon I could no longer bear to keep my attention on anything other than the attacks. I went home and sat in front of the TV.

That evening I worked as a personal aide to a naturalized American citizen from Germany who has clear memories of being a child in Germany during WWII. I walked through her door and just dropped my backpack on the floor. I did not say hello--that somehow seemed trite. We just looked at each other. "What an awful day," I said. She agreed. I went through the motions of preparing her meal and caring for her needs, but I felt disconnected from my body and my surroundings. Neither of us said much. As I prepared her for bed later that night, she began to talk. She said that it reminded her of the bombings of her town in WWII. She said that she couldn't bear to watch anymore. "I know what those rescue workers are experiencing", she said. "I remember what powdered buildings and dead bodies smell like. I didn't know I remembered the smell, but I can smell it as I lay here." (In the weeks ahead, she began to have nightmares and found that she had never dealt with the trauma of the war.--"I just stuffed it away, like all the Germans did." Many times over the next year, she would talk about the war).

That night I watched TV until my eyes wouldn't stay open. The next weeks were one long blur. I know I attended classes, but nearly every other waking moment was spent sitting cross-legged in front of the TV. I don't remember there being Halloween that fall, and I don't remember the change of the seasons. I would sit in front of the TV to watch the news and lose track of hours at a time. When I would become aware of myself and surroundings, I would find I was rocking back and forth with silent tears falling down my cheeks. I cried for those who died. I cried for those who survived. I cried for our national loss of innocence (or ignorance?). I cried because in order to protect me, soldiers were leaving their families and doing things that I myself did not have the courage to do.

Though I no longer have as intense feelings today, I still mourn and still worry, and I still feel the ground of our country shifting under my feet. The status quo no longer exists, and what we will become is still unknown.

That last paragraph still applies today... perhaps now more than ever.

[photo discovered via Lex]