On Friday, Cathleen Rittereiser, one of my Facebook friends, posted a note on her page saying she was taking a day off from social media on September 11th, to observe 2751 moments of silence , as a way to honor the people killed during the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, 2001.
“By defining a ‘moment’ as 30 seconds, it would take 22.9 hours to observe a moment of silence for each individual killed that day. The last hour honors those that survived, yet suffered loss or trauma, and are forever haunted by the events of that day. 2751 Moments of Silence,” she wrote.
This sounded like a good idea to me. For several days last week, as the memorial date approached, I felt a pang of grief hit me when I remembered how I felt that morning. I knew people would talk about it online yesterday, and that together we would grieve a little and share stories that would comfort each other, collectively, but it seemed that all the normal and funny and pithy stuff I usually banter around on Twitter and Facebook would seem so…I don’t know. Ridiculous. Or somehow disrespectful.
I remember the morning of September 11, 2001 so vividly and clearly. My husband woke me up by rushing into the bedroom and turning on the TV, just as the first plane hit the Tower. He’d been watching the news break downstairs on the internet.
“What is that?” I asked, not understanding.
“An airplane. Hitting the World Trade Center.”
“It’s live,” he said, staring at the screen.
“But,” I said sitting up, his words finally registering, “it can’t be. What time is it in New York? What day is it? There are people in those buildings, right? What about the airplane? How can an airplane crash into a building? What about the people on the airplane? How can an accident like that happen? What happened to the pilot? It doesn’t make sense,” None of it made any sense.
“They think it might be terrorists,” he said.
“What?” I said. And then I just started crying, as it all sank in. “But, all those people…they’re just at work. They just got up and went to work…” And then he put his arm around me and flipped through the rest of the channels, and I kept crying and asking questions he didn’t have answers to.
And then the 2nd plane crashed into the other tower. And we sat there an watched, stunned.
“That’s not an accident,” he said quietly. And I felt like throwing up.
We sat there on the edge of our bed, watching the events unfold on CNN. Soon another plane hit the Pentagon, and then another one crashed in Pennsylvania. It was too hard to comprehend. I stopped asking questions. I just couldn’t understand it. I just kept thinking of those people in the airplanes, and the people at work. Sitting at their desks, or chatting at the coffee pot, or saying good morning to each other in the hallway, and then a plane hits their building. Or the building next door.
“There are so many people in there,” I said quietly, “they have to get out. They can get out, right? How do they all get out?”
And then there was film of all the firemen, rushing up the stairs to get them out, hurry, hurry, get out, hurry.
And then the first building fell. It just crumbled so suddenly, so quickly.
And I started crying all over again.
Eventually we had to deal with the kids, who were just getting up and wanted breakfast, and needed to go to school. My husband had to go to work. My son was only two. We were going to visit friends that day for a play date. I called the other mom to cancel, and she was crying to. She wondered if she should send the kids to school. She felt so vulnerable, sending them out of the house, she said. Nothing would happen at school, right? Out here in Oregon, away from all the bigger targets?
I hadn’t even thought of that. It hadn’t occurred to me that terrorists would plan a wide spread attack. But until that morning I couldn’t even fathom the idea that they would fly airplanes into buildings. I told her they’d be fine. I sent my kids to school. I needed the routine of the day for comfort. We were in Eugene, Oregon. Why would they do anything here? But then, why wouldn’t they?
I watched the TV until I couldn’t any more, and then turned it off. I packed up the baby in the stroller and walked and walked, but I couldn’t get the thought of all thse people out of my head.
So when I saw Cathleen’s post last Friday about taking the day to step out of my daily social routine and think about those 2751 people, it seemed like a good idea.
I have to admit I’m not very good at vigils. I didn’t think about the the people every moment yesterday. I had a pretty normal day, for the most part. I rode my bike down to the coffee shop in the morning to work on a little story I’m writing. I took my daughter to the library. I cleaned the fridge. I did five loads of laundry. And folded them. And put them away. I went to the store and got ice cream for my son, who’s now 11.
My son asked about the events of September 11th yesterday. Of course he doesn’t remember that day, when I held onto him a little too tight and cried in front of the T.V. I told him a little bit, about how horrible it was to watch the planes hit the buildings and how the buildings collapsed, and how I cried for the people stuck inside who died, and how brave the firemen were as they rushed in to rescue them, but I didn’t have it in me to explain it all to him.
He kept asking why? Why did they do it, exactly?
The answers got stuck in my throat, and I turned away so I wouldn’t start crying all over again.