I suppose every generation has their one day in history that defines their era. Where were you when so-and-so was shot? What were you doing when thus-and-such happened? For me, it's centered around September 11, 2001.
What I was doing, just before I found out about the towers, and then the Pentagon, was sleeping. At that time, T worked a late shift so we tended to get to bed late and thus up late. I was wakened by the fellow who'd come to do the annual termite inspection. As we chatted, he asked if I'd heard about the plane that crashed into The World Trade Center, I imagined a Cessna or other small aircraft. He said he'd heard about it on the radio. I turned on the TV (we had satellite, back then, and could watch darned near every channel known to mankind) and found a new station. I saw the smoke and watched with disbelief as the whole thing unfolded, a horrid spectacle. I even videotaped it because...I don't know why. Maybe I didn't want to believe it and needed lasting proof. Maybe I thought some day I would want a reminder of this surreal day.
Things I remember about 9/11/01:
I was dazed.
Calling friends and asking had they heard? Did they know? What was this new thing happening?
Waking T and telling him, standing in the living room and watching the TV, unable to turn away.
Walking outside and looking up at the sky, and the emptiness of it.
The unusual silence of a day with no aircraft going overhead.
The juxtaposition of our ordinary day with the extraordinary horror of what happened in New York City and in DC.
Crying, off and on, all day.
A desire to do something, anything, to undo what had happened, or to help, or to fix it.
How empty the roads were - no one was driving anywhere if they didn't have to.
Wondering if there was more to come.
Watching the towers.
The realization that I was sleeping when the first plans hit, and I would have been sleeping still, unaware of this monumental thing that would shake our nation to its foundation, if not for the advent of a termite inspection.
Later there would be stories of heroism, and there would be liars and thieves who claimed a part in all of it in order to gain, and there would be stories of families blown to pieces, of people leaping rather than burning, of people going back in, back in, back in, refusing to give up as long as one more could be saved. There would be politicians, politics, anger, rage, demands for justice, for revenge. Later still would come the arguments about cleaning up, rebuilding. Then the laws would change, and change again.
Destroying those buildings, taking those lives, was only the first part of a plan that still to snakes its way through our world. The fear generated on 9/11/2001 continues to this day. Reactionary laws created ripples that our children's children will feel. We've given up countless freedoms in the name of safety, of prevention, of punishment. There are those who would wrap us further up in the name of protection, wrap us in steel and barbed wire and "Keep Out" signs. Those who would see every person armed, and those who would see every person disarmed.
For me, 9/11/2001 was shattering, not because we could be struck on our own soil - just because it hadn't happened before didn't mean it never would - but because of the hatred and fear it woke in my fellow citizens. Because of life wasted in the name of religion. Because I'm used to people hating what I am (no one who wears the label of Pagan or Witch can be unaware of hatred in the name of God, we deal with it regularly) but not used to that hatred striking on such a tremendous scale. It was also the beginning of a long, slow crumbling of some fundamental rights inherent to making us the society that garnered such hatred in the first place. Therein lies the triumph of the perpetrators of the event. It wasn't just the immediacy of the destruction...it was and is the prolonged disintegration of a nation into a fractured society full of isolation and distrustful, angry members.
Along with our innocence, along with life and property, we lost our cohesion.
I will not forget 9/11/2001. I will not forget watching the towers fall, nor the loss, the inexcusable waste of life. But also, I will not allow fear to take root in me. I will not let fear feed on ignorance and grow into anger, nor anger to blossom into hatred.
On this day, fifteen years later, I celebrate the best things that came out of one of the worst days, even as I mourn the continuing losses we experience on a daily basis.