Where Was I?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Sweet Charlotte…

Today is a unique day in our country.  To you, it will likely be just another day that old people talk about a lot and refer to by a set of numbers.  It will be the Pearl Harbor or D-Day of my generation—something you know is important in history but will never fully understand be able to appreciate.  But I was there then and will never forget it.  So, the only thing I can think to do is tell you about that day, tell you where I was, how I felt, and what happened in the days and years to follow.  To you, it will be any other day.  To me and your dad and millions of other people, it defined generations…

Where was I?

I was a senior in high school.  Being early September, it was early in the school year and college recruiters were always coming to pitch their schools and urging us to apply.  That Tuesday morning, I was sitting in the library listening to a pitch from Georgia Tech {It let me skip class, okay??}.  Another student came in at one point and announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. 

I was growing up in Savannah, Georgia. I’d never been to New York City. I had no idea what the World Trade Center was.

I can’t remember if we were dismissed early or if we waited until the bell rang for the next period, but I didn’t see any footage of the events until I was sitting in a math class {Mr. Avila’s??} after the presentation.  Sitting there watching the crumbling towers, I knew this was a big deal...but mostly from the reaction of my teachers.  I didn’t get it, couldn’t comprehend it, and was secretly hoping they would just give us the rest of the day off.  I had no idea what this day would become.

After school, once we were home, we continued to watch the footage all night.  The images were repeated over and over.  Planes hitting buildings.  People jumping from windows. Avalanches of smoke and dust.  Tired firefighters. Panicked strangers.  It was beginning to sink in that this was a really, really big deal.

President Bush had only been in office a handful of months.  A crazy election in the months prior had made him a polarizing figure from the beginning.  And all eyes were on him analyzing his every move.  I will never forgot watching him on TV stand atop a pile of rubble with a bullhorn to his mouth and an arm around a firefighter.  I remember thinking he seemed so human and fatherly and I really liked him.

For weeks, the nightly news was a night shot of Ground Zero lit up by construction lights on all sides.  The death toll never seemed to stop climbing and the digging never stopped.  As the months went by, September 11th was no longer a day.  It was the condition of things.  Life went on but it didn’t seem to move forward.  We were living in a world constantly reacting to the events of that Tuesday.

War. Anthrax. Press Conferences. Snipers. Flight restrictions. TSA.  Looking back, I should have been much more scared than I was.

But I was also an 18 year old living in Georgia!  I was a senior in high school and life was pretty great—I’d been accepted to UGA and was much more concerned with who my roommate was going to be and who was going to ask me to prom.  And the constant scenes of Ground Zero were less and less shocking and just becoming what was on TV.

The next four years were the best years of my life.  The economy tanked, soldiers were deployed, and nobody liked Republicans.  But I was in college.  My rent was $250, I was living with my best friends, and Georgia football was in its prime with Coach Richt and the Davids.  It was still very hard for me to feel the effects of a post-9/11 world unless I was in an airport.

But as the years went by and every anniversary came and went, I would grow more emotional in appreciation of what those New Yorkers and Washingtonians went through.  I will never, ever forget the dad on TV crying who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, located on the top floors of one tower, and was one of the only surviving employees because he was dropping his son off at school.  I visited New York for the first time my junior year—visiting Ground Zero was our very first stop.  By then, it was a giant hole in the ground, cleaned up to a concrete floor.  But standing in that spot, walking the streets of Manhattan, and falling in love with the city provided even more context to that day. 

I couldn’t imagine what those people went through.

After college, I moved to Washington, DC {because I was crazy about your dad…}.  I fell in love with the city.  I was new and Dad lived on Capitol Hill, so I never passed up an opportunity to visit the Capitol or take friends to the Lincoln Memorial or visit the White House at Christmas.  I drive by the Pentagon almost every day—it is right there.  Right off the interstate, across the street from the mall.  The positioning of the airport brings planes in so close to the light poles and bridges, I always fear that one plane isn’t headed to the airport {every time, still}. I can easily imagine what those commuters witnessed when that plane hit the Pentagon.

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The Capitol building lit up at night is still my favorite view of the city—thank you God, that fourth plane did not succeed in its mission.  Your dad works right there in the heart of it all.  I have selfishly told him more than once, “If anything ever happens, please don’t be a hero.  Just get home.”  Those wives kissed their husbands goodbye that morning just as ignorantly as I kiss your dad every morning now.

I cannot imagine what those people went through.

Today is the twelfth time we’ve marked the anniversary of September 11th.  Every year, some channel is always replaying the live footage of the morning news shows that day.  I watch and feel pity for the anchors and the people on the street offering play-by-plays of the scenes in lower Manhattan.  They speculate…it was an accident.  Air traffic control problems.  Just a small plane.  They have no idea they are now living in a post-911 world.  They have no idea thousands of people have died and millions more have lost a loved one.  They have no idea how much people hate our country and our culture.  They have no idea we’ll spent the next decade at war.  They have no idea how polarized politics will become.  They just woke up with plans for coffee, or a doctor’s appointment, or a first day of school.

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This year September 11th is different for me because I’m your mom.  I know love greater than I thought possible and fear loss more than you’ll ever know.  You are busy and innocent and sweet and smiley.  I scoop you up if you bump your head too hard and you don’t know about bad guys.  I constantly pray for your health and safety because I can’t lose you.  I constantly pray for my health and safety because I don’t want to leave you.  I constantly pray for your dad’s health and safety because we need him.  We do everything in our power to keep you happy and healthy and growing.  I don’t want you to know fear or danger, though those days will inevitably come.

And that morning, bad guys stole safety.  They stole people’s children, they stole mommies and daddies.  They stole homes.  They stole jobs and stole health.  They stole innocence and security.

It’s not just a day that old people talk about.  It’s not just a movie or a story in a book.  This day marks the resilience of our country, it remembers what we lost but marks how far we’ve come.  Because tomorrow we’ll all wake up and go to work or go to school.  We’ll laugh and smile and eat and pay bills.  We’ll go to church.  We will freely love Jesus.  We will not fear attack. We will vote.  We will help our neighbors. 

America is not perfect, but it is a great country and you are one lucky little girl to be here.  Please don’t take it for granted.  There are people in this world that live in a perpetual state of 9/11, who always fear attacks and know loss.  There is always rubble and rarely unity.  But tomorrow you will wake up and get smiles and hugs and food.  You will grow up here with limitless possibilities, and countless freedoms.  I lived through 9/11 and it still took me years to grasp what happened and how it changed our country.  So please don’t roll your eyes… Ask your teachers.  Ask Gigi or Hoppy.  Ask your best friend’s mom.  “Where were you?”  Learn and appreciate what happened, what people survived, and why our country is so wonderful. 

God Bless America, Charlotte, and always remember September Eleventh.

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