In our lives, we all have “before and after” moments. There are these defining moments that literally define us, and change the course of our lives from the inside out. September 11, 2001 was one of those days that changed everything. There was before. Then there was after. That one day is etched into my soul, like the ancient carvings in walls. The images inside my mind tell the story life, forever changed for me.
This was a generational moment; the “where-were-you-when” moment. I have a story. I turned on the news that morning while the hubs and I got dressed for work. I saw the first tower on fire. And then…. I saw it. That second plane, forever in a slow-motion loop in my head, slammed right into the second tower. The camera was so far away from the buildings, it looked like a small plane. At the time, I had no idea that it was a jet. And what’s more, I had no idea that it was full of people. It was unconscionable…. people? In the plane? On purpose? I couldn’t wrap my head around the implication. What did it mean?
And then the reports started coming in…. 4 planes. 2 crashed already and then… the pentagon. And then, the lost plane. And then… that plane down.
I remember the fear. I remember the pain. I remember it all. I remember the little dots that I thought, at first, were pieces of debris. I remember the horror that sunk in when I realized those dots were people, plunging to their deaths. I remember wrestling with the comprehension of the choice they had to make. I watched the towers fall. One, first…. and then the other. I remember the initial reports of “up to 10,000 people who could be in the buildings. I remember the magnitude of that number to me…. 10,000 human lives.
But the thing I remember the most was the aftermath. I was glued to the news for days on end. I cried, sometimes openly, with the people who were grappling with the tragedy at Ground Zero. I remember being touched by the workers, both professional and civilian, who showed up determined to find life in a pile of death. But most of all, the images that I see in front of me, as I write this…. I see the people searching for their missing loved ones. I see them; pictures taped to their chest as they walked about, doing anything to get on television to plea for the return of their loved ones. Some of them found their missing person. Many of them didn’t. And that fucked with me.
I was a professional photographer, at the time, and suddenly I found more value in the gift I possessed. I shared it with everyone. One of the reasons I will *always* photograph someone who needs it is because of those painful moments after 9/11. I will never deny someone a photograph. It is why it will never be about the money. It is why I share my gift, freely, with everyone I can. Because for many of those people who wandered the streets with the smiling faces of their loved ones attached to their bodies – those photographs are all they have left.
It changed me, forever.
So why relive it? Why allow myself into that space that is filled with so much pain that it’s hard to find room for light, let alone acceptance? Because we have to. My daughter was only 6 years old when that happened. We shared a little with her, but kept much of that agony to ourselves, because her mind should remain unfettered by terrorism and the fear we had come to carry with us after that day. But now, 10 years later, she is able to talk with us about it. I can ask her questions and make sure that the reverence of that tragic day is carried on. Did you know that she thought the terrorists were instructed by Saddam Hussein to hijack the planes? Did you also know that she thought that it was the military that they killed? She didn’t realize that civilians were in the building.
And this is why we have to relive it. Because there is a whole generation of kids that are fed misinformation by the internet, ignorant adults and kids who don’t know any better than she does. Sad, really. But the truth is that it is our responsibility to make sure that those kids know what really happened. We have to relive it because we belong to a society that forgets about things as soon as they are off the cover of People Magazine or off the home page of TMZ.com. We have to remember, lest we forget.
This is not the time for conspiracy theories. This is not the time for anger with the government. This is not the time for retaliation. This is not the time for blame.
It is time for honor and remembrance. It is the time for love and for togetherness.
Go forth, this weekend, and love your fellow man. Love yourself. You are loved. That much I know. So love back. It’s the only way we truly defeat the evil that changed our lives.