We Can Remember Them All
September 11. Long before it was marred by the worst terrorist attack on US soil, my family’s life had already attached a special significance to the day.
September 11, 1992. We were still newly weds, just over a year in, with a four month old baby girl. We were living on a small Hawaiian island in the Pacific, living what looked to everyone on the outside, to be the dream. And don’t get me wrong, there are far worse places to be than living inside a postcard. But cost of living in a postcard has a price tag, and our decision to have me leave my job and stay home with our baby made for some sleepless financial nights.
Then Hurricane Iniki came along and made all the financial decisions for us. House — gone. No more rental payments. Car — the convertible soft top needed replaced, but was not a wallet priority. Iniki made sure insurance replaced it for us. Groceries were always expensive, after all it all comes via ship or airplane. Stores closed, no house = no groceries to buy. Living on the island was expensive — hurricane displaced us to Dallas, problem $olved.
That day we lost everything but each other. Carpet ripped from the foundation, all belongings destroyed or disappeared in the Category 4/5 winds. And so we did what one does when there are no other choices, we started over.
In the ensuing years, 9/11 has always been both a heavy hearted day and a day of renewal for Rudy and I. The day we lost it all, but also discovered we had it all. We had everything we needed to begin again, we knew in our bones what was important. And so, we celebrate that every year. We will celebrate that today.
When 9/11/2001 happened, we stood in shock with the rest of the world. Like you, we felt connected by grief and tragedy and horror. One only had to look in the eyes of a passing person to see that connection. This country lost far more that day than just 2,977 innocent people. We lost our innocence. We lost the feeling of invincibility that has always gone hand-in-hand with being a citizen of this country. We lost so much, yet in the aftermath, it also felt like we found so much.
We found connection to one another — a connection the likes of which I had never felt before. Patriotism, protectiveness of one another, compassion, a hand to hold. We were a nation suffering from PTSD and we held one another up. Then life moved us on, blunting the grief, distancing us from the shock, separating us back into political pieces of the pie, racial pieces of the pie, rancid pieces of the pie.
9/11 seemed to become something certain people felt they “owned.” And woe betide to anyone who dared utter anything but red, white, blue, God, flag, country on this day. The notion that if you think about something else on 9/11 you automatically are not thinking about 9/11 is utter crap.
People have birthdays today. People who were children on that 9/11 are forever being told to shut up about it because their day is not as important. Rubbish. Trust me, even a 5 year old on 9/11/2001 got the message on that day that their day took a backseat. And that was understandable on that day. It in no way means their birthday should forever be whispered like something dirty.
People have anniversaries today. Celebrating your yearly love for one another is right and true.
People like us have a tragedy all our own in our histories that means a great deal to us.
The other end of the self righteous spectrum comes forth every year on this day to accuse us of not remembering children in cages, the lives we killed overseas post 9/11, the lives lost in battles near and far, lives taken in school shootings, the current fires raging in Oregon, California, Colorado, the nearly 200,000 people lost to COVID.
Here’s the thing about a human being. We are all capable of emotionally multi tasking. Thinking of one does not preclude thinking of another. We can remember them all. We can honor them all. All the people, all the memories.
If today is your birthday — CELEBRATE. Leave the guilt at the door and celebrate your day. The same with anniversaries, milestones, remembrances that are yours alone.
We will never forget what was taken on 9/11/2001, the lives stolen in a waking nightmare. But if we learned anything that day, it is that life is short, and more of it is not guaranteed to any of us. I promise you, with the exception of the terrorists, no one woke up that day thinking it was their last sunrise. No one kissed a spouse goodbye thinking they would never again kiss them hello at the end of the day. No child hugged a parent and thought they would never hug them again.
Our lives are complicated, messy, joyous, heartbreaking, scary, and funny, but they are also hopeful. That is what gets us out of bed each day, now more than ever. HOPE. Hope that we will continue on, that we will laugh, that we will love, that we will find love, that we will get a degree, that we will move into a new home (something that baby from 1992 is doing this very day — on the anniversary of the day she lost her first home, she and her fiance’ are moving into their new home and they are rightfully celebrating), that we will watch a child graduate, that we will have a baby, that we will hold a newborn grandchild, that we will travel again, that we will persevere.
Again, we will never forget what we lost that horrific day in September 2001. It is a scar of memory we all bear on our hearts. But in remembering those who died, we must also remember it is ok to live. It is ok to smile, to laugh, to feel joy on this day. We do not honor their deaths by ceasing to live, even for a day. We honor them by wringing every bit of joy out of this life while we can.
So take a moment today and hold them close in your heart, whisper a thought or prayer that this country finds its way again, and then if this day holds another meaning for you — honor that, too.
We can remember them all.