September 11, 2009

Every Generation's Question

It seems to me that every generation is called upon to answer a variation of the age-old question; "Where were you when?"

On this day, we ask our friends, coworkers and occasionally strangers, "Where were you on 9/11?" Eight years on and still we are curious. Why? To gauge the impact on others, to engage in remembrance of a shared experience, to fulfill what the previous generations know. My parents ask the question in reference to John Kennedy. Their parents asked because of Pearl Harbor. Perhaps we'll tire of the game one day, but at present I can still recall every detail of the 12 hour day I was working when I learned of the first plane's crash.

As we recall events today, most do so with a shake of the head and a reverent voice, telling our day with the remnant of disbelief. I sometimes wonder how those who championed the hijackers tell it. Where were they when our country was changed. Do they revere the killers? Do they shake their heads? I don't expect to meet anyone who sides with the perpetrators and must therefore contend myself with the empty act of forgiveness. They killed people I don't know and though the day shook me, it will never approach the pain of those who buried a loved one or gave their lungs for the cause.

At the Veterans Administration call center, we received a call from a vet how said aliens were attacking. In minutes another man informed us that a bomb went off. Soon the story trimmed the fantasy fat and veered toward truth. We were attacked. And then Peter Jennings took over our radios to give us the play-by-play of a day gone terribly sideways. Without televisions, we relied on callers to update us on the visuals. Another plane struck. The Pentagon was breached. A plane was missing and thirty employees began scanning the ceiling tiles. The bulk of the day was thereafter spent talking among ourselves in shock-tainted tones.

The drive home is what I will remember most strongly and will always mention when this day as recalled. I will speak of the man who stood on the side of the road at 8:00 pm with a huge American flag. He waved it solemnly and I will not deny the tears that welled. On that day, everyone I knew had become a vocal patriot and this man showed his pride in the most beautiful display I'd ever seen.

We no longer look up at every airplane overhead with suspicion as we did in the days following 9/11. There are less flags flying, though more magnetic ones remain on cars than I can ever remember seeing prior to the event. Distance dulls the perspective and time lessens the wound on most days. But today, on this anniversary and every one to come, our minds reverse the tape and replay our day. The day we were slapped, the day we stood up again, the day we united. The day we survived.

I am an American. I wave my flag. I remember where I was when...

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