Friday, September 11, 2015

My September 11th

I found the following piece saved on my computer.  I wrote it sometime after midnight September 12, 2014.  I didn’t put it on my blog – I probably felt it was “too personal” to share.  But I found it today, September 11, 2015 (one year after I wrote it) and re-read it.  And I decided to share it. 

MY SEPTEMBER 11TH

I have a hard time putting into words what September 11th means to me.  I spent some time trying to figure it out, wrap my head around what it is…

I think I realized that September 11th is a holiday to me; really more of a holiday than the others.  It’s not like Christmas – with gifts and twinkling lights.  And it is not like Easter – with dying eggs.  It doesn’t have special food associated with it – no turkey or mashed potatoes.  But it is a holiday like no other for me – it is a holiday where I stop to think, to remember, to consider, to mourn, and to respect.  It is a holiday where the MEANING and the history maintain their significance year after year.

So much of my life changed on September 11, 2001.  Our country changed that day, as most people who were alive to witness the terrorist attacks will agree.  But it all feels so much more personal to me.  I feel like my whole outlook changed that day.  My attitude.  My beliefs.  My world.
My husband and I took care of my mother-in-law as she died of cancer.  She died one month before the plane hit the Pentagon.  It was an honor to take care of her, difficult for sure, but we were honored to be able to do it.  Then my father-in-law got sick – he was in intensive care in Arlington, VA September 10th, the night I took the last flight out of Washington Regan Airport to fly to Omaha and my husband stayed in Arlington to be with his dad. 

I slept at my parent’s and when my mom came and woke me up, she was saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York and that something was wrong…  I remember watching the news sitting on the foot of my parent’s bed as the Pentagon was hit.  And the Trade Centers fell.  Our house in Virginia is very near the Pentagon – our local fire station was the first to arrive on the scene.  And my husband was home…  I remember trying to call over and over but not being able to get through with all the phone lines jammed. 

But what I remember MOST about September 11th was the oncologist’s office.  My family sat in the waiting room listening to AM radio being piped in over the speakers instead of what was probably the usual elevator music.  The announcers were saying that President George W. Bush had landed in Omaha, where we were, in Air Force One.  I remember thinking (did I say it out loud??), “NO!  Go away!  Don’t come here – we have enough trouble today and you probably have a terrorist target on your back!”.

Soon we were called back for the consultation no family wants – where we learned Mom had stage 4 colon cancer.

Much of the rest of the day was a blur.  I remember going out to eat (I feel like I remember the feel of the booth under me) and I remember one of my sisters who was out of town paging and paging and paging me asking, “WHAT did the doctor say???”.  I remember not wanting to reply – maybe putting it into words would make it too real, but I told myself I wasn’t replying because I wanted to “be present” in the moment and sit and eat with my parents.  I remember finally reaching my husband on the phone and learning that he and his father were fine – his father had been moved out of ICU to a regular room so that the hospital could handle incoming patients from the Pentagon, but it turned out they didn’t have many patients since many victims either had non-life threatening injuries or were killed at the scene…

Maybe it didn’t happen that exact day, maybe the seeds were planted that day that grew into change.  A change in my perspective on death for sure.  A change in my sense of security in the world.  An erosion of my naiveté.    A change in my relationship with the healthcare system.  A change in my faith in “right” and “wrong” – or maybe “fair” and “unfair”.  A change in my strength.  And the beginning of what I now see as a more realistic view of life – including death.

Every September 11th since 2001 I have not scheduled any work.  It has been a day of remembrance for me, of self-exploration, self-pity, and reflection.  This year was the first September 11th that I have worked, and it felt so wrong.  It felt sacrilegious.  I guess it would be like most people working Christmas or Hanukah – their holidays. I worked on MY holiday, and I should not have. 


So yeah, it is 12:30 am now, so technically that makes it September 12th.  But I didn’t make my annual journey to Arlington Cemetery to the graves of those killed in DC that day, and I didn’t go to the Pentagon September 11th Memorial like I normally do.  So if you will excuse me, I think I will go there for a few moments now.  I will turn back my clock and pretend it is still the holiday.  And I will think, and breathe, and remember, and mourn.  Until next year, when the holiday rolls around again…

Happier times - me in orange, my mom in blue, sister Sherry in peach,
sister Annette lower right, and niece Ashlee in yellow

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