Undone all over again.

I’ve spent a little time this week working on messaging for the 9/11 10th anniversary. But when I was trying to think about what I have to say about 9/11 on a personal level, I came up empty. In avoidance mode. Denial. Still undone. Still overwrought.

I can tell you my memories of only a few weeks before, at the end of August 2001, when we had to put down our golden retriever, Stu, and how that felt like the end of the world. Around that same time, I went to my class reunion in Tennessee and danced with the man who had been my prom date, then went back home to Charlotte with him. That seemed pretty momentous. Those things did matter a great deal too, and still do, in my life, in that moment in time before those moments in time to come.

Here’s what I know about 9/11/01. I wept and wept, just like most of you. For the lives lost and the lives lived, for the heroes, the terror, and for the sure knowledge that things would never be the same. Nothing would ever be normal again.

Some of  the immediate changes were good. I remember on one of the days following 9/11/01, I snapped at a woman at the grocery store for blocking my way, then going back and apologizing to her. And there we were, two strangers, hugging and crying in front of the canned foods at HT.

I received an email today from the Co-Founder and CEO of Meetup, an online social networking portal that facilitates offline groups meeting in real life at various locations all over the world. I was uplifted by the story Scott Heiferman tells of living at the time of 9/11/01 two miles from the twin towers, and finding himself forced out of the internet and into his neighborhood, talking to more neighbors than he ever had before. And so the idea was born to use the internet to get people off the internet and back into their communities. Today, Meetup has over eighty employees and 10 million meetuppers. Heiferman ends by saying “9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or to talk to strangers.”

But all the days that have followed have been marked by the weighty and terrible knowledge that somewhere out there, Americans are fighting to make the terrorists less terrifying. My cousin Mark spent years poking his gun into caves and holes in Afghanistan with other Special Forces Troops, looking for that son of a gun. My cousin Pat was not even allowed to wait one more day so that he could attend our grandmother’s funeral in 2005. He was being deployed, and war doesn’t wait, even for funerals. My cousin John has spent the last three years tracking Asian terrorists, even through a personal catastrophic event. His brother Joseph has been embedded with some Marines as a Navy chaplain, away from his family for eons, at sea in the Middle East when OBL met his just demise.

Last year, on 9/11, I waited in the airport security line, traveling for a client, when they called for a moment of silence at the exact time the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I stood with my head down, thinking if I didn’t close my eyes, I might keep from crying. And then I saw a big fat tear fall out of my eye and on to the cold, hard floor, and I started thinking of those people forced to jump from those tall, tall buildings or face worse—worse!—and I nearly came undone again. It was all too much. In that line because of the things that happened that we were having a moment of silence for while in that line.

I don’t know that I have a point here (which really bothers me as a writer, but not so much as an American tonight). A lot of people are saying they can’t believe it’s been ten years, but I can. Think of all the things you’ve been through since that moment you saw that second plane crash into the other tower. Jobs lost. Careers renewed. Moving. Moving again. Children all grown up. Children born. Children overcoming injury and illness. Some lost to us. Grandmothers and mothers lost to us, too. Stu. Elmo. Orange. Piccadilly. <Insert your pets’ names here>. All gone. Henry here. Lots and lots of waters gone by.

So, it has been ten years, and nothing is the same, which is normal, except it’s a “new normal.” I’m heartbroken over some of the changes, and heartened by others. The other thing I know is that 9/11/01 will always be one of the saddest days of our lives. And if I think about it too much, I’ll come undone all over again.


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