September 11th is a strange day for a lot of people. I've read a few posts from a couple of parent-bloggers that reflected on some of their personal experiences of the terrorist attacks five years ago and its shocking how close to the surface so much of that emotion still is, even years later. There were many people who were deeply wounded on that day.
There isn't much I can add to the many remembrances being recounted on the internet. I've never been to New York or Washington, D.C. or the plains outside of Pittsburgh. I didn't know anyone who was injured or lost five years ago, and like a lot of Americans, most of my memories of the attack came to me via the television, not from first-hand experience. But, I can say, as terrible as that day was for a lot of Americans, I experienced it in an incredible way.
I was at a training conference in the mountains. There were just a few of us from Colorado with the rest of the participants were from all over the country. The conference was a team-building/history/brain-washing session for the organization I was with at the time and we were scheduled to be in the mountains for a week, learning about ourselves, each other, and how we could all make the world better. It was every bit as dull and shallow as it sounds. Then, one morning during breakfast, someone came into the cafeteria and announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center buildings. I asked which one. He said both of them. I asked him what happened. He didn't know, thought maybe a pilot got drunk or went crazy or something.
We all had to hike a mile down the road to a small snack shop to find a television. About a hundred of us crammed inside that tiny, cheesy shop and watched as the buildings collapsed, silently, some of the people crying, others trying to make phone calls, most of us just confused and overwhelmed by what we were seeing.
Our trainers didn't know what to do. They eventually decided to keep going with the training, but cancelled some sessions that first day and found us a television we could watch. No one knew what happened. When the training sessions started up again, a lot of us skipped them and just watched the news, obsessively, from six in the morning until midnight, sometimes staying up a lot later.
Before the attack, there was a party every night, afterward, the drinking was hushed and somber. There was a lot of crying that week. There was a lot of anger. There were a lot of questions about how people were going to get home from the training.
No one could have predicted what was going to happen when the training was being planned, and at the same time, no one could predict what it would be like to have two hundred strangers from all over the country experiencing these unimaginable attacks, holding hands, hugging, helping each other handle the emotions. It was amazing. I wish I could articulate why, but being surrounded by people from all over the country, every one of them as confused and concerned as the person standing next to them, was very profound and very powerful. Our last night together, we all stood up and sang the national anthem. The hugs afterward felt real, even from people whose names were just barely in focus.
A lot of people lost family on September 11, 2001. A lot of people lost friends. There were even some that lost hope. It sounds sacrilegious and uncaring when I say this, but in some ways, September 11th brought me hope. It was a difficult time, hard to be away from my wife when it seemed like the world was disintegrating, but I saw more strength and compassion in that crowd of strangers than I've ever seen before or since. It is still humbling to know, truly know, the character of my fellow Americans and their seemingly limitless bravery. Its such a tragedy that we can only catch glimpses of it in such horrible times. Or, maybe it is what makes those times more bearable.