How to Remember 9/11 Now


Have you told your 9/11 story so many times that you have a Spark Notes version of the thing suitable for parties?

I do. Mine goes like this: When the towers fell, my husband and I were at the obstetrician's office seeing our baby for the first time on ultrasound. He left me covered in ultrasound goo and ran for the ship. He deployed that day!

It is a story. I can tell it funny. I can tell it brave. I can tell you it is a story that has been emptied of meaning. It is a story designed not to bore people for too long.

Right after the towers fell, we didn't tell our 9/11 stories that way. We all told the extended deluxe anniversary edition Director's Cut versions of our 9/11 stories.

We repeated the stories of the people we knew who were most directly involved. The near misses. The close calls. The coulda-been-me stories.

We told of the friend in the tower who couldn't get a call through to his wife for hours because so many people were calling her to see if he was OK. We tell the story of the school principal who waited all day for a call from her husband at the Pentagon that never came.

First responders told whispered stories of what they had seen with their own eyes and how it all smelled and the ache and silence of the long walk home.

People say that when you have a trauma, telling the story is part of how you get past it. That's why first time parents tell you the long version of how the baby was born over and over. That's why old people talk about their surgeries.

Telling stories heals something in us.

And that is good. We want to be healed -- even from a national tragedy, we want to be healed. We want to be fixed. We want to be over it.

But something about 9/11...I don't know. We are told to remember. We are told never to forget.

So when I hear the YouTube version of a 9/11 story -- the details cut out and the 15 seconds of story that survives -- I think we have forgotten.

If you get lucky, someone does tell the extended play version. They tell you all of it. They relive it like it is happening before their eyes. They choke up.

I understand that. Because when I trust you wiith my extended play, I tell how I thought Brad had done exactly the right thing. I tell how it took nearly two hours to get on base to get back to my own house because every car was searched. I tell how I stood in my empty living room in front of the TV and turned Charlie Gibson on and off. How I dithered and paced and ended up back in my car to go to my kid's school because if anything else happened I wanted to be right there with them.

And I always cry at that moment. Because my heart breaks open remembering how much those two children meant to me and how I could not let them go through anything without me to be there to protect them. I was their mommy. Their mommy.

Somehow the worst days of our lives do bring out the best in us. The least selfish part. The bit that recognizes the things we value most. Those dark times spotlight the things that matter in such brilliant relief we cannot look at them long and we cannot look away. We are blinded. Bedazzled. Beside ourselves.

We were like that on 9/11. And 9/12. And 9/13.

We are still like that in our stories.

That's why on 9/11 I always ask people where they were and what they were doing. I don't want to hear the Spark Notes version.

I want the whole thing. I want the blow-by-blow. The scene by scene. I want the allusions to the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Boston Marathon bombing and the stories of Fallujah and Korengal Valley. I will stop and listen for stories as long as it takes.

Because on 9/11, I am hoping for just a minute that the two of us connect over the things that mattered most once upon a time.

Story Continues
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