Maybe it’s because I’m married to a military man, or maybe it’s because I’m out of the US for this September 11th anniversary, but I felt compelled to write a little bit about this day, to remember what happened, and to honor and acknowledge what has happened in the 11 years since…and also to be honest about my “pre-Zach” thoughts and attitude towards this anniversary and how they have changed.
I wouldn’t say I was a very patriotic person, but that has certainly changed for the better since I met and married Z. I am a little bit sad to admit that, because it just shows that as long as my happy life was left unruffled, I didn’t really think about the people whose lives WERE directly affected by threats to our country, or even what an amazing gift it was to HAVE an unruffled, happy life. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the lifestyle I freely enjoy. I certainly took it for granted.
For me, September 11, 2001 was a scary day full of shock and fear of what would happen next. I breathed a sigh of relief that the people I knew and loved were safe; I had a heavy heart for those who were not safe, whose lives were ended or changed forever…but that was the extent. On September 12th, I woke up as usual, went to school as usual, came home to a family dinner as usual…nothing in my life had really changed. Yes, flying became more of a hassle with tighter security measures. Yes, I knew we were at war. But my life, my little bubble, remained mostly untouched. Especially as time marched on and we got further and further away from that morning in 2001.
I don’t think my experience is too different from the majority. Maybe it was…maybe you knew someone who lost a loved one in the attacks. Maybe YOU lost someone you loved and today is an especially hard day. I cannot imagine the hurt you have experienced if that is your story. My heart goes out to you.
Today, though, I’m writing from my experience and writing with those in mind that maybe have similar stories to mine…to the people who, consciously or not, admit that their lives were not so different before or after this day eleven year ago. I think that's maybe a hard thing to admit. Maybe it seems callous or invalidating, like September 11th didn't matter that much. I don't think that's how anyone truly feels, but admitting that this day doesn't really affect your day-to-day life very much certainly seems wrong and feels unpatriotic, politically incorrect, insensitive. "Of course it affects my life; no one was unaffected by that day!" seems to be the response that immediately wells up inside when I consider this. So maybe it's hard to admit and much easier to act really proud and patriotic on this one day, saying and doing the right things (and posting the right Facebook status) all for the sake of appearances...while really today is just another day for you, if you're brutally honest. And it's with brutal honesty that I tell you, for me not much had changed after the fact and I was content in that. I was content to see this day on the calendar and march right through it like I would any other day, except maybe posting a quote about "always remembering" on Facebook and Twitter. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, by the way. I LOVE what social media does for days like today...the flags, the pictures, the quotes, the solidarity. But for me, there was no real meaning behind it. It was just "what you did". Once the initial shock and fear wore off, life went on mostly unchanged.Fast forward 8 years and suddenly my life is not only affected by the consequences of that day, but it’s turned my world upside down. The war in Afghanistan, the one I’d heard about for the last 7 years, the one that I could so easily dismiss before I met Zach, the one that was just another story in the news…that war was suddenly wreaking havoc on my tidy life, overshadowing every minute of every day for an entire year while Z was in Afghanistan. It was personal now. It had faces and names, including a face and name that I cared so much about. It was a patchwork of cut-off phone conversations and blurry, image-delayed Skype sessions and stomach-turning anxiety every time my phone stayed silent after “breaking news” of more fighting, more casualties scrolled across my television screen. All of this woven into my “normal” routine of work and dinner with friends and weddings and trips to the lake. And I started to “get it”. I started to understand what it meant to be touched by the ripple effect of September 11th.
It’s amazing how quickly your perspective changes when things get personal. It’s easy to take everything for granted when it’s not your life being touched. The effects of that gorgeous fall morning 11 years ago are still being felt so deeply by so many…more people now are held under the weight of this heavy-handed giant today than 11 years ago. But it’s easy to forget that, isn’t it? Because it’s been a long time. And the shock has worn off. It’s harder to notice the quiet, day-to-day things like deployments or war casualties or thousands of cases of post-traumatic stress than it is to react to a city under attack and a mass killing on “our turf”. It’s harder to remember that some of these guys and girls who get sent to Afghanistan to fight were only 7 years old when the planes hit. It’s harder to pay attention to the near-daily stories of soldiers being injured or killed as they continue to fight a war birthed 11 long years ago.
I know that if I hadn’t met and married Zach, I probably wouldn’t think too long and hard about what today means and the sacrifices so many people have made in the years since then. I would probably notice the date and think about how it feels like just yesterday. I would probably have the “where were you?” conversation with coworkers and retell how I was home sick from school that day and how eerie it was to walk downstairs to what I thought was an empty house with the radio turned up and all the lights on. Then I found my mom in the basement watching tv…and she NEVER watched tv during the day. It was all very surreal.
But after that short moment of recall, I would probably go about my day as usual.
What’s different now? I am still going about my day as usual. I am still sitting here remembering what it was like to watch that second plane hit and watch those towers fall. I posted my American flag picture on Facebook with a patriotic quote and I am "liking" all of my friend's statuses and flag pictures. But what’s different now is that I am OVERWHELMED with gratitude for the people who have stepped up and sacrificed their lives, who have spent years away from their families and friends, who have been sent to fight so that we HAVE THE OPTION of living a life “unaffected” by what happened on September 11th. So that we HAVE THE OPTION of posting these flag pictures and feeling pride for our country and our military, even if we only remember to call up those feelings a few times each year. Ever since I met Zach and married
the Army him, I look at today very
I don’t really care if you agree or disagree with the war. I don’t really care if you think we have no business being in Afghanistan or if you think America is the greatest country in the world so of course we should be fighting those who threatened us. You’re free to your opinions. You’re free to note the day on the calendar, feel a twinge of sadness, and run out the door to grab your pumpkin latte from Starbucks without giving it another thought. You’re free to take a day off work because today is just too painful and you can’t bear the thought of walking out into the sunshine and treating today like “just another day” when you know it never will be for you and your family. You’re free to treat today however you want.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? You have that option. And that’s the difference between how I viewed September 11th before I had any personal connection to it, and how I view it now. Now, now that the product of September 11th, the war, is suddenly is a very real part of my life, crouching in the back of my mind constantly whispering “it’s not over… Zach could be sent again”. Now I recognize what today means and the importance of remembering and respecting this anniversary. I now recognize the fact that I live(d) in a country that was viciously attacked yet responded in such a way that my day-to-day life, and the lives of a large number of Americans, didn’t dramatically change. My lifestyle wasn’t in jeopardy, my religion wasn’t banned, my freedom wasn’t taken away. I wish I had the selflessness and wisdom to recognize it earlier…to realize that my carefree life, my option to freely enjoy whatever lifestyle I choose, is not something to be taken lightly or for granted. Everyone had a glimpse of the horror and fear of a life with those freedoms forcibly removed when those planes hit. The implications of being so violently attacked were not lost on anyone. Some lives were acutely and forever changed. Some lives were temporarily shaken but quickly restored to normality. Regardless of whether this day is a glaring reminder of what was lost (whether on the actual day in 2001 or in the years of fighting since then) or is just another day on the calendar, I hope that we can remember to honor those who died that day, those who served that day, and those who have died and served BECAUSE of that day.
I don’t know what it looks like for you, but for me it means hugging Zach extra tight tonight and thanking him for his service. I'll even make his favorite meal. Maybe for you it means taking a minute to reach out to someone you know who lost a loved-one 11 years ago, letting them know that you remember and you share in their pain and that you love and support them. Maybe it means taking a minute at the dinner table to talk to your family about what today means and why it's so important. Maybe it means telling a soldier that you are so proud of them, regardless of where you fall politically. Maybe it means giving a hug to any mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, grandparent or relative that has a family member who has been or is currently deployed to fight the war that started because of September 11th. Maybe it means going out with your friends, enjoying some drinks and raising a toast to your friendship and to remembering September 11th together...because you can. (I vote for that option, personally).
And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go on with your daily life as usual. But this time knowing that you’ve paid the highest respect to everyone who has been affected when you simply remember today, truly and honestly acknowledging all that happened on this morning in 2001 and all that has happened since then
...whether it’s changed your life or not.
...whether it’s changed your life or not.