Every year on this day, I, like most every American, feel a heavy heart. Because of my roots, and where I was on that day 11 years ago, I knew people in the NYC area directly involved in the 9/11 attacks. I knew people who lost people. I knew people within shouting distance of the Pentagon. Yet, I didn’t lose anyone in my immediate family or circle of friends on that day and can’t fathom what it was like in that respect, nor will pretend to. One of my closest friends, and his now-wife, made it out of one of the towers probably with minutes to spare. I think we all feel a sense of unease because while the tragedy was and still is unthinkable, we don’t quite know how to cope or how to feel for those we knew and loved and those we didn’t know (and yet still loved…the heroes).
We all have stories from that day. We all remember where we were. We all remember watching the news coverage. We were all impacted. Some more directly than others, yet, something so horrific, tragic and unthinkable leaves an impact no matter who you are. On the 8th anniversary, in 2009, I remember walking over from my apartment to the former World Trade Center site – about a seven block walk – and sitting on the sidewalk for two hours as people grieved underneath the symbolic lights that shot up towards the heavens. I grieved with them and I pondered the years since the attacks.
Exactly one year after the attacks, on 9/11/02, I was working for Playboy Enterprises. I happened to be flying from NYC to Chicago. I will always remember that flight. I will remember getting to LaGuardia for my flight two hours early. A ghost town, the airport was. I remember picking up a newspaper and seeing the tributes, OpEd’s and images. I remember sitting in the lounge next to only a few people. I remember getting on a large 737 and seeing exactly 8 other people on a plane that could fit 150, not counting flight attendants. I remember thinking…”is this all too soon?”
Three years after that, on 9/11/05, I was still working for Playboy and was on board another flight – this one from LAX to Chicago. I will remember that flight too. The plane was almost full. The airport was buzzing with people. What a change from three years prior, yet, I remember picking up a newspaper that day too, and the headlines and pictures were similar to those from 2002.
On 9/11/06, I was on a plane again. Much the same as the previous year. Airport was full. Plane was full. Newspapers all read the same as they did one year after the attacks.
The circumstances of the day changed us forever but the one thing that hasn’t changed is our memory and our consciousness, I remember thinking six years ago.
This year, 2012, 11 years after the attack, I don’t happen to be flying. But I’m still reading all the same news outlets I did years ago. Though I no longer live in lower Manhattan as I did for years, I see images of the new tower in the skyline. I’m proud. And I’m happy to see the same headlines and editorials today as a decade ago and I’m doubly proud. Why?
Because no matter how much I can’t possibly relate to those who lost loved ones that day in NYC, Washington and Pennsylvania, I can relate to feeling extremely sad, reflective, and empty for those who did. I also feel proud, because 11 years later, we have NOT forgotten and the major news outlets in the U.S. have not forgotten and though we have shown ourselves to be extremely resilient over the years by not allowing terrorists to fundamentally change our way of life, we recognize that they did in fact change our lives. And we don’t forget.
There’s a difference between changing our lives and changing our way of life. And I’m glad we haven’t forgotten that, and glad that we never will. The attacks that day changed everyone’s life, and we all have stories – some of which would seem trivial to the real victims and their families from that day - but collectively, practically and symbolically, our way of life has not changed. We build new buildings. We talk about it together. We grieve together still. We do the best we can.
But we’ll always remember.