Over the past few weeks, I’ve had many exchanges with people about their experiences of September 11, 2001. To a person, everyone has known exactly where they were, exactly when they heard, and whether they saw the towers fall as it happened or caught the horrific moments afterward on video. Everyone remembers.
I’ve played that morning over and over in my head. I remember bits and pieces of it. I learned before leaving for work -- I was then the editor of the Athens Daily Review -- that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Did I hear about it on TV or on the radio during my drive to work? I’m not sure.
I also can’t say with certainty how I learned about the second plane. Was I standing at the TV in the newsroom, or was I in my office working on pages? I can only guess.
These gaps in my memory mock me. Why would I, of all people, not be able to access such details? I’m a writer. The emotions of a moment are as important to me as the facts.
What I do remember clearly is the overwhelming feeling of wanting to close my office doors, pull the blinds and be very, very still. At the same time, I wanted to be home with my husband and baby. I wanted to watch TV non-stop; I wanted complete silence. I wanted to know everything I possibly could; I couldn’t bear what I was learning. It was too much.
At some point, weeks or months later, I discovered many recollections of the day had quietly slipped into my subconscious. I imagine them sitting in there, hunched over like an old lady next to memories of my child-birthing pains and most of junior high.
A day or two after the attacks, a community wide prayer service was held on the courthouse lawn. This I remember clearly. My husband, Roy, and I attended. Our 10-month-old daughter, Madeline, was nestled against my back in a baby pack. I worried she would cry. She didn’t. I don’t remember who spoke at the event or what was said.
I do remember, when every head bowed, I became acutely aware of the weight of my daughter against my back, her chubby hand batting at my shoulder, her legs dangling against the small of my back.
That’s when I stopped listening to anyone else and prayed with all my heart, “Please, please, God, protect my baby. Protect my baby from this awful world.”
That’s been my fervent prayer ever since for both Madeline and now her brother Connor. Please, God. Please protect them.
It is a prayer I know thousands shared that day 10 years ago and for days afterward. It is a prayer of hope and fear and desperation, and it still breaks my heart to think about those we lost and the aftermath of sorrow that flows from it still. I will never be able to think on those dark days without a welling up of anguish in my soul. The grief is like a banked ember, forgotten until it flames.
This anniversary is a time for us to muck about in our memories, whatever they may be, to pull up what should be examined, swap stories, cry again. It is the season for such things, and afterward we can move forward again.
How we go about moving forward is crucial. As my beloved former teacher, Paula Lemmon, reminded me, the only thing that truly overcomes hate is love. I believe that, just as I believe God is love and that he will one day sit on his throne and make all things new.
What I am unable to remember with clarity is far less important than what I choose to dwell on now, especially in this season of fire and drought and sad remembrances.
The words Paul wrote to the Philippians echo through my mind. “Whatever is true,” he said, “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.”
It’s an admonition worth remembering in this or any season.