Monday, September 11, 2006

Where Were You ...

For a long time I was afraid the "Where Were You" moment of our generation was going to be something sadly representative of our generation, such as

- when the OJ Verdict was read? (At a prenatal appointment for Samantha at Bassett Army Community Hospital in Fort Wainwright, Alaska)

- when you found out about Kurt Cobain's death? (in my bedroom at home watching the news)

- when you heard Princess Diana had died? (I'd just been picked up from work by my ex-husband and his best friend, and they told me)

- when you heard (or watched) the Challenger explosion? (I'd just gotten home from school - first grade - and saw on the news. The older grades watched it live, but we weren't told about it. I'd wanted to be an astronaut up until that moment)

We all realize now that that moment for us, the moment that defines people now the way JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. (my parents found out about MLK's death when they arrived at the hotel for their honeymoon. He was probably being assassinated as they were saying their vows) was the previous generation, is 9/11.

And why do we feel the need to tell these stories? Why must we repeat our own tale of when we heard, what we saw, especially those of us who had no real connection to the event? Unity in crisis? A form of healing - what is it exactly?

I was working at the Revenue Office of Central Missouri State University. I had to call home for some reason and my then-roommate, Chris, said they'd just bombed the World Trade Center. At that moment it didn't mean much, then my boss came up and started telling us more details, we all began checking websites, and he brought up a portable radio so we could listen.

As the day went on, reports were varied and mostly inaccurate, at least by word of mouth - a rumor of a car bomb somewhere, and I was a victim of the gas-shortage rumors, and had to leave work early to be certain I had enough to make it home.

Just a few months later - New Year's Eve - I was in NYC, at the home of some of Eric's friends who lived in Battery Park City, overlooking Ground Zero. They described watching the planes hit out their window, the fears that the tower would fall on their building, and their trying to escape to safety until they knew it was okay to return. Then I met another friend, who was with his son on the last train to go under the WTC as the planes hit. And we were there, half-drunk on the streets, on our honeymoon, on 3/11/02 when the towers of light were first lit. We listened as everyone told their stories then.

It's still horrifying to watch. Our kids, though, won't get it. They will be so used to it, will have seen it over and over on the screens, the way we've seen JFK go down and Jack Ruby take out Lee Harvey Oswald, that it won't ever be real to them. They won't have the fear, the sadness, the longing for the world to return to the way it was on 9/10/01.

My son, though, saw the picture on the newspaper - one tower in flames and the other plane about to strike - and he knew. He turned the paper over, so he didn't have to look. He is only 2 1/2, but he still knew.

I don't have any great words of wisdom. It's all been said. But in the same way my mom's family was so in awe of the first moon landing that they took a picture of the screen, I had to say my peace, too.


alimum said...

I remember hearing an audio tape of Osama Bin Laden, talking about where he was when he heard what happened to the towers. It was strange because even though he knew that the attack was planned, even though he wanted it to happen, he still hadn't expected the towers to fall. And I remember thinking it was oddly reassuring, in a small way, that even those responsible felt they had to talk about it, that in spite of everything, in spite of one's actual feelings about the event, the human thing to do was to talk about where you were when you heard.

We need to tell our stories, we need to remind ourselves and others what happened, what we experienced.

I don't know what our children will feel about teh event when they grow up.

We watched a small amount of the MSNBC "real time" coverage on Monday morning and Julian pointed at the tv screen and said, "Uh oh. Buildings broke." Then he told me we needed to put tape on them. Oh if only things were so easy.

Judy said...

I was watching a clip today on my computer, and Guthrie came in and was watching too, and turned off my monitor so he didn't have to see it.

If it only it were so easy - tape, or turn off the monitor.