On Thursdays, I meet with a former university student I taught about seven or so years ago. He asked me, a long time ago, to tutor him to help him with improving his writing. In exchange for my tutoring, this gentleman, Andrew, comes to my school at least once a year to talk about his experiences with 9/11.
I know I write about 9/11 a lot. I imagine that you, my dear audience, must be rather tired of reading my blogs about 9/11. But right now, I am watching the one main documentary that is on about this event. And earlier today, Andrew and I talked about our experiences and I narrated to him the quiet minutes I spent walking around the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
Andrew was a New York City police officer on 9/11. He was at the World Trade Center. He walked across the plaza, literally dodging falling people and walking without really focusing on the crushed and mangled bodies of the people who had fallen from nearly a quarter mile above him. He was there when the towers collapsed and blanketed the world with carcinogenic dust and debris.
And every year, when I teach a unit on 9/11, Andrew comes to my school and walks my students through his memorial stepping stones and leads them through the plaza and past the horrifying scenes of the bodies lying in strange poses of brutal, torturous death. He walks them into the world beyond 9/11 that, finally, I found this last summer because I finally went to New York and made peace with the tragedy.
I miss September 10th, 2001. As Andrew put it, September 10th was America’s last day of innocence, a naiveté that will never be found until, perhaps, the only people who live upon the Earth are those who were not alive on 9/11 or have any memory of that day. I miss the days when shoes weren’t weapons and forgotten bags were merely a sign that someone wasn’t paying attention.
Andrew and I chatted today about my trip in New York City and I narrated to him my walk around the fountain where the South Tower used to stand. I described to him how I gently rested my fingers on the names of people whom I recognized but never met. I told him how I “accidentally” found the names of so many people whose stories I know even if they were complete strangers to me when they were a live. I described to him finding his friend’s name, Sergio. Sergio who had transferred to the fire department and was a frustrated because he was bored. Sergio who went into one of the towers and it eventually became his mausoleum.
I felt a bit weird describing how I mourned the loss of September 10th, and Andrew passionately agreed with me. He described September 10th as a fault line in history and how September 11th would forever be a day for us, for the world, that cleaved us from the past.
I didn’t feel like I had earned the grief I experienced from 9/11, a grief that is still very tangible even now as I type this. Even though I feel like I found some sense of closure by walking the acres around the ghost of a building that will never be resurrected, I still know that the pain is there, a tiny embryo deep inside me. It will never go away and I don’t know that I want it to because I don’t want to forget.
To forget is to repeat. And there is no way in hell that I ever want to go through another 9/11 type experience.
I am in my recliner tonight. The Smithsonian Channel is broadcasting a 9/11 documentary that is discussing the mystery explosions fire fighters reported hearing as the towers were collapsing on 9/11. Outside, a thunder storm is singing in the distant horizon and I would normally stop and go outside to watch the storm roll across my neighborhood.
But, now, I am sitting on my fault line. I am sitting in a quiet bit of peace and watching a building with a jagged wound vomit out smoke and humanity and the last vestiges of an innocence I didn’t know that I still had and would still want to hold fourteen years later.