Friday was the fourteenth anniversary of that strange and horrifying day. I was going to re-post something I wrote on the sixth anniversary of the day the planes were hijacked and turned into massively destructive weapons, but at the last moment I decided that I needed to reflect a little bit more on how recollections of that day fourteen years ago still shape the feelings that return every year in early September.
It’s a truism that everyone remembers where they were at a time of great crisis, and that’s certainly true for me, too. But I had never really thought about how that also means that anything that you happened to be doing at the time, no matter how trivial or insignificant, becomes a permanent memory associated with the event. It’s as though the weightless actions of an average day were instantly caught and pressed into timeless artifacts by the immense pressure of history, like so many insects trapped in amber.
I remember what I was doing that day. I was working at my new job at Voice Signal Technologies, sitting at a temporary desk in a converted rec room with two co-workers. I was planning to leave early because I had also just started coaching high school cross country, and September 11th, 2001 was our first scheduled meet that season. I was tremendously excited by that.
I remember that the sky was a brilliant blue, cloudless and perfect. It was the kind of day that makes you want to run and run and run, the cool dry air sharpening your breath and your senses. It was a perfect day for a cross country race in parks that were still green, a perfect day to see kids running hard, and then laughing about it afterwards, supremely confident in their prodigal fitness.
The meet was cancelled, of course, as everything was cancelled that day. We met after school anyway, and we talked and then we ran. I’m embarrassed to recall that I felt resentful that our meet had been delayed. I had so much been looking forward to it, and felt like it had been yanked away. I couldn’t quite grasp how much had been yanked away, so focused was I living in my own tidy little world.
Last Friday, as Ann and I were eating dinner, she began telling me about some radio program where people had been saying that 9/11 was a day for remembrance, and she said she wasn’t sure what they wanted her to remember. I thought about her question all weekend, trying to reconcile what I thought we were supposed to remember with what I actually did remember.
I think we are supposed to remember, first of all, those who perished on that day, and those who risked all to rescue as many as possible. But beyond that, it grows murky. Are we supposed to remember how frightening it was, and pass that fear on to a new generation? Are we supposed to remember that the world contains others who would be willing to wreak such carnage?
Maybe it would be worthwhile to continue looking back, taking in details that were impossible to notice fourteen years ago. For instance, there was a story about the air force pilots who took to the air in planes that were unarmed, with the knowledge that they might be asked to fly what were essentially suicide missions to bring down hostile aircraft. The stories are endless, and still have the power to surprise, astonish, and move us.
But I also remember the every day events of my life on that day. I remember the resentment. I remember that blue sky, which went eerily quiet when all planes stopped flying, and I remember the disappointment that our meet, my first meet, was postponed.
Last Friday, 9/11/2015, I had my hands full at our school setting up for our annual Community Fun Run, an event that the cross country team puts on as a way to share running with the entire school community. It had rained in the morning, but the rain cleared out by early afternoon, and everyone was in a festive mood. As the crowd of students and faculty gathered for the start, I thought about making some reference to the anniversary, and maybe to my recollection of coming together as a team in the afternoon of that singular day in 2001. But I didn’t trust myself to say the right things, so I merely thanked everyone for coming, told them to watch out for cars and for each other, and expressed the hope that they’d enjoy the blessedly cool temperature.
There are much bigger things to remember than a missed opportunity to run a race with high school kids, but that minor loss plus a thousand other losses small and large remain as real today as they were fourteen years ago. What should we remember? We should remember to be grateful for all those small pleasures, for every chance we’re given to run together.