As a 9/11 survivor, no longer living in New York City, each anniversary of that dreadful day in September is problematic for me. By my choice, I live in a city where there is no one else who knows what it was like to be in New York that day, let alone knowing what it was like to be in front of the twin towers.
The weeks leading up to each year’s anniversary are fraught with a self-imposed strict expectation to honor the day, and the lives lost, in a proper way. There is no Ground Zero to go to here in Lancaster, PA. (Up until this past April I had not been able to go back to New York). For some of the anniversaries I have figuratively just held my breath and anxiously waited for the day to come and go. For most of them, the apprehension and depression start weeks before. From the beginning of this year I was thinking ahead to this year’s 10th anniversary. What could I possibly do that would sufficiently bring the proper remembrance to such a significant day?
And now, a week after the anniversary, I am grateful for the opportunities I was given to publicly remember and recognize that both day and my place in it. I shared my story through newspaper and television interviews. Radio listeners in both Singapore and Australia heard it in my own words. I was given the honor of having a reporter and photographer from the BBC spend the day with me here in Lancaster; that resulted in my story being on the BBC’s website. I spoke to 1,800 high school students and a local Rotary Club. I was able to bear witness of that day during the three worship services at my church on the day of the anniversary; as well as at a memorial ceremony held in Lancaster.
The attention, though, is somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m glad that people want to know what it was like to personally live through the terrorist attack. Even after ten years, it is still so important to me to tell my story; by any means. That is why I wrote a play and a book. I feel it is the least I can do to help assure that we, as a country, never forget; especially for the generations to come. I also feel that, as a survivor, it is the least I can do. It is what I’m called to do.
The most fulfilling moment this year was speaking to the teenagers who were mere children in 2001; who have vague memories that “something bad” happened that day. They were so respectful and attentive as they listened to me. Teachers told me they had never seen the students that quiet at an assembly. You literally could “hear a pin drop.” When I finished speaking, they stood and offered their applause; which moved me to tears. As I came down from the stage some of them came up to thank me; a few with tears in their eyes; all with true sincerity on their faces. I will never forget this one boy, blond, short and husky, who could barely get the words “thank you” out. I hugged him and he just cried. I realized, then, that they truly wanted to know about the day that was to change their world before they were even old enough to know it.
But now that the anniversary is over, the attention has ceased. There are no more questions being asked. No more tributes being held. Life goes on; as it should and must. I, myself, have gone back to my usual routine. The one difference, perhaps, between most others and myself (and other 9/11 survivors) is that I will still be thinking of 9/11 every day. I expect it will continue this way throughout the rest of my life. I will still have moments when I feel the extreme sadness from a grief that lingers. The images of that day will still come to mind unexpectedly. The memories remain vivid. I am moving forward with my life but that doesn’t mean I can forget.
I write all this just to ask that you be aware that we, the 9/11 survivors, are still healing. We were drawn onto a battlefield that day and so many of us are still rebuilding the lives that were shattered because of it. There are the families that will always grief over the loved ones they lost that day and we should be ever mindful of them. But we survivors also grief; for our lives, as we knew them, that were taken from us that day. Luckily, for most people, they respectfully and consciously will only have to remember 9/11 once a year. For those of us who were there we remember every day.
I'd like to thank Artie for being willing to write such a personal guest post for us.
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