Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nine Eleven

I can't figure out why September 11 isn't a national holiday yet. Not because I want a day off, but because it is the defining day of our generation. I wonder how future generations will think about this important day. It's sad to think that my kids will regard the 9/11 attacks as just a part of history, same as WWII or Abraham Lincoln or the Declaration of Independence. Living through a historical moment makes you re-think how you approach history. To the people that lived through the Civil War, that was their actual life. It happened to their friends and family, and not just on CNN. It was a real thing. And the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and even World War II weren't that long ago.

Last night I went to this interdisciplinary class about Spanish film. We had watched a movie about the Spanish Civil War, which for me is just an academic subject of history. But when I came to class, I met Pedro, who is my same age, but whose family remembers the war. He tells first hand accounts of meeting people incredibly struck by that horrible war (that unfortunately, never really gets discussed in history class). It makes you re-think what "history" really means.

On September 11, 2001, I was actually in Spain. I was serving as a missionary at the time in the Bilbao area, working as the secretary to our mission's president. I was on the phone with an American woman in Madrid who started freaking out and saying, "Have you heard about the attacks?! It's crazy! It's on TV -- they've bombed New York!" She was hysterical. Remember that the details at that time weren't clear yet.

It was the afternoon there, near the end of the work day. We didn't have a television or anything in our office (I hadn't watched TV for well over a year), but we did find an old radio. We tuned in to a Spanish news station, trying to capture bits and pieces of what had taken place. Several of us knelt down and said a prayer. We quickly ran over to a friend's apartment where we could watch BBC and see the whole thing unfolding, narrated in English. We unfortunately got there in time to watch the second tower get hit, and both towers fall. Now that I think about it, it's really incredible that I watched it all live, being like two thousand miles away.

In the weeks following the attack, we were permitted by the mission president to read newspapers and keep up with some of the events (since so many of us missionaries were from the U.S.). It was fascinating to see how our understanding unfolded a little more each day in the Spanish and British newspapers. Everywhere we went as missionaries, people asked us about the attack, and how we felt about it. Though there were a few disparaging remarks here and there, for the most part I was so touched to see people reach out to us, trying to offer compassion and support. Being in Spain during 9-11 provided a unique perspective on the whole attack, and it made me re-think what it means to be American. I came home to a different country in many ways.

Even more life changing for me was my visit to the Ground Zero site this year. I actually made several this summer. A small group in my firm was treated to a special tour of the site and the temporary museum "Tribute" by the museum's founder. Eating dinner with that man, who lost his police officer son in the rescue effort, was truly remarkable. Hearing the stories of all the people who were actually there that day has completely changed me. What's so important is that as a society we are in a time and place where we can accurately in video and sound record the stories of the people who were there. It's so touching and amazing.

And now here I sit on my couch. Life goes on. But we can't forget what happened that day, and why it's so important.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

The Government has already declared Sept. 11 Patriot Day. So I guess it is a "holiday," but we just don't get time off of work. (Not to be confused with Patriot's Day in Massachusetts. The "S" is what is different.)

Also, I think that is what Memorial Day is for. To remember all of those wars and the people who fought for our country. But now, I think most people don't treat Memorial day as a day of rememberance -- it's a day for picnics. I agree that we need to take time to reflect more on those events and not take life or our freedoms for granted. I think that reflection also helps us as a society to be humble and hopefully turn to God.