Today, on the anniversary of 9/11, I wonder if we have handled it right.
Do you remember? I do.
The day of 9/11, I watched Fox News while I got my kids up and out to school, irritably because I had a doctor’s appointment that day, and I was not looking forward to it. As an “older” mother-to-be, who had recently miscarried, I was considered potentially at risk. Thus, I was to have the amnio—the genetic test that would tell us whether the baby was (as all expectant parents want to hear) “all right.” A side benefit (or perhaps a consolation prize, considering what an inconvenience the test was) was that we could learn the sex of the baby—if we wanted to. In an odd coincidence, had I not miscarried, I would probably have been coming in to deliver that day.
So, that morning, I got the children to their school and came back to sit and wait. I watched, as the discussion on television buzzed furiously around the mystery of the week—what in the world had happened to Washington intern, Chandra Levy? Did her Congressman boss/presumed lover, Gary Condit, do her in? All signs were pointing to yes, and he was acting pret-ty shady (it did, however, turn out not to be him, after all.) Somewhere in America, police were chasing a pick-up truck, and Fox News was alerting us about it.
Then, at 8:46, the newscasters reported that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, North Tower, and everyone became focused on what seemed to be an accident. There was a lot of smoke. There was a lot of confusion. Every channel was talking about it within a few minutes.
Then, at 9:03, while we were watching, another plane barreled into the South Tower.
And everything changed forever.
Even small things were disrupted.
When I went to my appointment, my doctor told me he couldn’t do my test. He said, “This morning, some terrorists flew two planes into—“
Annoyed by my belly full of water, I was a little rude. “I know all about that. I’ve been watching it all day. On the way here, I saw miles-long lines for the gas stations. We all know. Why can’t I do my test?”
He was understanding of my predicament, and sorry—and additionally sorry that I’d spent so much time in the waiting room, not allowed to go to the bathroom, expecting to take the test. But the problem was out of his hands, and, to be fair, it was in fact the terrorists’ fault. The sample when taken had to be flown to a lab to be tested—and there were no planes allowed in the air.
I went to the bathroom, made another appointment, and drove home, marveling that something so far away had become so personal.
And I watched New York, and DC, and Pennsylvania. The world watched. For four days, we were frozen in a moment of time in which everything seemed to stop, 90 continuous hours of commercial-free news, nothing but survivors, first responders, the searching and grieving families of both. I remember seeing the ash-people–white and black people covered in black soot, and black and white people covered in white ash, so that everyone was virtually indistinguishable.
Just Americans. Just us.
Across America, the skies that had rained death were eerily silent. For days.
In those days, we were bound together against a common enemy. We were transfixed by a common experience. We—all of us, both parties—held our children and loved our country, and respected our president.
And after the time of shock, we all went back to normal…ish. That Saturday, Mayor Giuliani appeared on Saturday Night Live, where he was asked by Lorne Michaels if the cast was allowed to be funny.
“Why start now?” he replied, to the delight of the audience, in studio and at home. You could feel a sort of release, a kind of reassurance that things would go back to normal, that we were going to be all right.
I can’t tell you anything about that show, but it was an important moment.
We changed a lot of things. No more running up to the airline ticket counter at the last minute, like Chandler did in Friends when he was trying to convince Janet he was moving to Yemen, and like every romantic movie until then had men doing, to beg women to stay.
Soon, we had to take off our shoes before boarding.
We would go to war.
And then to another.
And all of this we tried to play off as normal. If our kids were small in 2001, we tried to shield them—and now they don’t know anything about it. That baby was a boy, and now he’s thirteen. And 9/11 isn’t even talked about in his school.
Maybe they should talk. Maybe we all should, again. Maybe we should have an annual three-day period of remembrance, when the media shuts down, and the planes don’t fly. Maybe we should gather together in churches again and pray for the safety and security of our country and light candles and tell stories and remember.
Instead of half a day of speeches and name-reading, perhaps we should shut it all down in remembrance of the day the world changed.
Because it really, truly did.