This morning when I checked Facebook, the first thing I saw in my news feed was that a friend had changed her profile picture to one of her and her fiancee. The new profile picture had to have been taken at least 15 years ago. Instantly, the tears came. I know the picture is at least 15 years old because she lost him 15 years ago today.
Like everyone else, I remember where I was. I remember getting a phone call, from my mother I think, telling me to turn on the t.v. and watch the news. Then I called one of my best friends and told her to do the same. Then I sat on the floor in front of my television, tears streaming down my face, as I watched the morning news, watched a tower smoke and burn behind the anchor, imagined the agony and terror of those trapped above the impact zone, and then, unexpectedly, watched the second plane hit the second tower on live television. A~ and L~ were just weeks away from their 4th and 2nd birthdays, respectively, and they still remember their mom watching t.v. and crying.
I remember going to Sam’s Club the next day. I felt the need to add some things — any things — to our rather limited food storage. I remember walking up and down the aisles amazed that there weren’t more people stocking up on food, all things considered, and equally amazed that, after what had just happened, I could still walk into a store and buy food. While the dust in Manhattan and elsewhere was literally still settling, while thousands of people were mourning and searching and hoping, I was able to buy food and take it home. It felt . . . eerie. And wrong. And comforting. The mood in the store was so somber. It was like buying groceries at a funeral. It kind of was buying groceries at a funeral.
Every year I remember 9/11. Every year I think of my friend, who I didn’t “meet” until about five or six years later. I have to put “meet” in quotes because we’ve never actually met in real life. I “met” her through our Vietnam adoption process, and when we realized at the last minute that we needed to get visas in order to enter China to catch a connecting flight to Vietnam, and we weren’t sure if we needed to go to the Chinese consulate in Chicago or the one in New York to get the visas, she was right there, in my email in-box, offering to help in whatever way she could if we had to go to NYC. I was so touched by her willingness to sacrifice and to serve when she’d never actually met us. I was so touched by her humanity. And today, when I saw that picture, I was touched again by a sense of both tragedy and humanity.
I have always taken time to remember 9/11, to talk about it with my kids, to watch with them portions of a documentary I bought years ago. It’s been 15 years now, and? I know for so many, especially those younger than about 17 or 18, it’s just a blip on the radar of history, one of the newer hash marks on the timeline. Even for me, the magnitude of the tragedy of that day was starting to fade just a bit. Seeing her picture this morning put faces on 9/11 — the face of one who was lost and the face of one who survived that loss, and it reminded me . . . it reminded me of the horror of that day and of the outpouring of humanity in the days following. It reminded me that, no matter how awful things are, sacrifice and service — humanity — are the solution. We didn’t sustain our humanity as a nation for very long because we forgot. We say we’ll never forget, the tragedy will never fade, but look how we behaved as a nation then and how we behave as a nation now. It’s sad. It’s tragic. But it’s not too late. If we, many of us, most of us, could live lives of sacrifice, service, and selflessness –lives of humanity — on the family level, eventually it would spread and enculturate our nation. It all starts at home. Good or bad, everything starts at home.
Fifteen years ago today, I had two children who were watching me cry as I stared at a television screen on a Tuesday morning. This morning, in the privacy of my bedroom, none of my six children saw me cry as I stared at my cell phone screen. I’ll talk about it with them in a bit, after our dinner company comes and goes. I’m sure they’ll see me cry then. We have to move on, but I don’t want to forget. I know most of my children can’t remember — they weren’t born yet, so there is nothing for them to remember — but I want them to understand. I want them to understand the importance of being good people, living good lives, and contributing to society not only by not detracting from it, but by serving it and sacrificing for it. I want them to understand just how far down the wrong path a lack of humanity can take us, and I want them to resolve, or strengthen their resolve, to stand for and perpetuate all that is good and humane. And I want them to understand that all of the sacrifice, service and selflessness — it all starts at home.
Tewt the Newt wants the same.
Tomorrow, maybe, I’ll share a talk I gave in church on the first Sunday following the Sept. 11 attacks. I had been asked weeks before to speak that Sunday on the topic of preparedness.