How We Remember

World Trade Center New York City in a Storm Cl...
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Memory is a funny thing.  This article came up in the paper on Wednesday and made me think about it a little bit.  I apologize for this not being a DIY post, but I’m sure you’ll indulge me just this once.

I’m remembering what it was like ten years ago today.

It was a sunny Thursday morning and I headed off to Carleton to attend my very first Geoscience lab.  Of course, as I know now, most universities don’t hold labs in the first week of classes.  Undaunted, I headed home, and was lucky enough to catch a bus that got me there by 8:30.  I dropped my mother off at her doctor’s appointment and went about my day, which was now free and stretched far in front of me.

My mother called me to pick her up.  “Be careful driving,” she said.  “There’s been a plane crash and people are listening to the news while they drive.”  I tuned into the radio on my way to get her and heard the news.  Not only had a plane crashed, but it had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York City’s financial district.  Every car we passed contained drivers and passengers with identical faces of horror to that which I’m sure my mother and I had on.

The first thing I did when we got home was scramble to the basement to turn on the news.  I saw the twin towers, silhouetted against the sunny sky, smoke billowing out of one of them.  As I and millions of other people watched, a second plane crashed into the second tower.

That sunny morning in September 2001, I huddled in the basement, glued to the television.  I saw people fall, and some people jump, from their office windows.  I watched first one tower topple into dust and ashes, and then the second.  I remember thinking how amazing it was that something made of steel and cement could disintegrate so completely.   With tears in my eyes I watched people running in terror from the massive cloud of dust and ash.  The bright, sunny day became very suddenly a choking night for those nearby.

In those days I worked at what is now the UPS store, and when I pried myself away from the television that afternoon  to go to work, I was still trying to wrap my head around what had happened.  After the towers fell, it came out that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and another into a field in Pennsylvania.  My boss greeted me at the door.  “There are no planes in the sky,” he said.  “No air shipments today.  Nothing’s getting out.”

My customers that night, the ones who had been paying attention to the news, were in shock.  We speculated on the reasons for such violence.  The customers who hadn’t been paying attention to the news were a bit different.  I had to explain to them the reason that I couldn’t ship their packages was because nothing was flying.  I remember being astounded that some of these people had gone the entirety of the day without hearing a word about this tragedy.   One customer became angry with me when I told him that I couldn’t FedEx his package to the US overnight.  He didn’t think that the events that had occurred warranted all this fuss.  He seemed to hold me personally responsible for the lateness of his shipment (which, by the way, was a set of documents that, in a pinch, he could have simply faxed to where it needed to be).  This was one of the few times I lost my temper at a customer while working at the store, and I told him that the last thing anybody cared about now was whether his package made it to wherever it was on time.  I told him he was welcome to try to ship his package from a different location but that his attitude was not welcome in my store and I asked him to leave.  I was still shaking with anger several hours later.

I remember walking around in the days that followed, marveling at the empty skies (and I lived relatively near an airport).  The first time I saw a plane in the sky after that, I almost ducked.   When I flew to Rhode Island to visit Doodle in March of the next year, the travel agent told me that I was booked on the exact airline and flight number that had crashed into the first tower.  That was an eerie trip.  Doodle and I were sitting in a bar, having lunch, the afternoon that George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan.  It feels like people haven’t stopped fighting since.

The Pie and I often speculate how we are going to explain to our children that the world is the way it is because of that day, ten years ago.  The wars that followed, the widespread fear of the Other and the blame that continues to this day, the rigid security at our airports and borders, all of that has changed the way we live and how we relate to others.  The weird thing is that I’m starting to get used to it.  I don’t see any huge problem with waiting in line for an hour at airport security to have all my possessions minutely examined.  But do you remember what it was like before?  When the guy you saw on the corner every day was just a guy, and not a possible terrorist in a sleeper cell?  When watching an old movie with a city scape of the towers in it didn’t give you goosebumps?

I can barely remember what it was like before, all the things we took for granted.  But I remember that day, as I’m sure you do.  How can we ever forget?  How do you remember it?  I would like to hear your stories of how the news affected you, being as you are, from all around the world.  Hard to believe it’s been ten whole years.

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