I want my thoughts to be completely focused on the victims of the attacks, not on my own personal struggles at the time. What I was going through back then was nothing compared to the horror experienced by the wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends who learned that one of the people they loved most in the world was suddenly gone, just taken away in one heinous and unspeakably violent attack. It's not even in the same hemisphere as the terror experienced by the people on those planes and in those buildings.
And yet it's impossible for me not to recall that 9/11 also marks the beginning of one of the most difficult chapters of my life. It's impossible for me not to go back to that. And that makes me feel incredibly selfish and self-indulgent.
So I try to think of that day through a different lens. I try to take my focus away from what I was doing when I got a call telling me to turn on my TV. I try not to think about the tension in my house by the time the sun had set, tension that could only partially be attributed to the entire world falling apart around us.
What I try to focus on is this:
Minutes after learning about the attack on New York my husband and I learned about the attack on the Pentagon. My brother-in-law was doing contract work at the Pentagon around that time. We both instantly realized that he could be one of the victims and the dread we felt was so intense it felt like it had physical weight. Of course we both immediately sprung into action. Calling everyone who might know something, hoping we'd be able to get through, emailing, checking the news reports on every channel, every website, looking for any crumbs of information we might be able to come up with.
I remember taking a break to take a shower...and I threw up in the shower. I had kept up a completely calm exterior but the suppressed fear and anxiety had mixed itself into a toxic brew that was making me nauseous.
Eventually we did get through to someone. We found out that my husband's brother was totally fine. He was nowhere near the Pentagon on that particular day. And my husband and I both broke out in relieved laughter and we spontaneously hugged each other.
It would be the last time we would ever hug. Within an hour things were tense again. We were like a microcosm of the country as a whole. For a brief moment we were unified. We shared our fear, we worked together, we rejoiced in our relief and then, all the things that divided us in the first place crept back into the room and drove us apart again.
But when I find my mind wandering away from the plight of those victims and back that self-indulgent place where I contemplate my life at that time I try to remember that hug. I try to remember that even when things are at their worst we can all unify when necessary no matter how big our differences are. We have that capability.
And I hope that when people are thinking back to 9/11 they don't just remember the fall of the towers but also how we all, for a short time, pulled together to help and comfort one another. That's a part of our collective 9/11 story. I think it's important that we value it.
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