I have been silent for ten years.
As Simon and Garfunkel so eloquently put it, "And no one dared/Disturb the sound of silence." Not even me.
It took me eight of those ten just to begin writing down what happened to me and to others on September 11, 2001. To put to words what I saw and what was going on in my head that deceptively beautiful morning so that I could create a diary and find my voice again, and then, just maybe, try to move on. Ten years is a long time to carry the damage and injury trauma survivors become so familiar with, awake or asleep, but maybe it is part of who I am today and maybe there is no moving on for me in the way we expect it to happen
However it all unfolds for me and the thousands of others permanently scarred from their losses and traumas of that day, there will always be an anniversary to remind me and us of something that divided my life and that of many Americans in two: before and after 9/11. The before is unbearably gone. It is the after that has changed our perception of invulnerability. So as I approach the ten year anniversary, I take a deep breath and remember how the song starts, "Hello darkness, my old friend/I've come to talk with you again"
Here we are once more: The summer winds down and the nostalgia and the sadness begin their rise to the surface. September is always about change, perfect days, a prelude to the autumn and the coming year. It had always been my favorite time of the year, not the summer. One can feel the autumn energy approaching, the season of turning inward, the anticipation of winter, the coming spectacular colors, the next anniversary. I can't believe that ten years will have passed next week. It still feels like yesterday. September is here, but this year, this ten-year milestone is big, in fact, it is overwhelming. I have never been back to the site and don't know if or when I will again, but I am girding myself for the 9/11 Ground Hog Day, the painful and frightening images that reappear for days, over and over again with a vengeance.
For many of us who were there or not, like clockwork, around Labor Day, a distinctive and dark solemnity starts to emerge, to creep in with growing intensity as we approach each anniversary, some worse than others, a memory embedded and wrapped in an act of unforgettable brutality, carnage and destruction and for the families and survivors: death or near-death, loss in the most heinous of manner.
As time passes, I learn more about what happened from the trickled-down information seeping into what is becoming a much bigger picture for me to get my brain around, even including the truth about the bankrollers of the attacks. I still am not sure out of which stairwell we made our final exit in the North Tower and only now learning just how close my call really came. Every once and awhile, a little more of the story is allowed in, just enough to process and clarify, to reset the truth.
What good has come from this? New building codes, a new skyline, downtown growth, and whatever we can throw into the 'upside' basket are for the mildly scathed or unscathed. There is no real upside to September 11, 2001 in the collective, but in the singular, I am profoundly grateful for having exited alive. While "moving on" is the promise civilization requires for its surviving and future generations, it is probably easier said than done when you have lost a parent, a child, a spouse, a partner, a grandchild. But I am heartened to learn that many of the children who lost a parent can look forward to education, good futures, fairly normal lives and that some spouses and partners have rediscovered love and remarriage. I am sorry to say it is likely another story for parents, grandparents and for the permanently injured. The impact of September 11th will be felt by thousands for many years to come.
The tenth anniversary is an unusual milestone. This year, it will finally deliver to the families, survivors and the world, the long overdue September 11th Memorial to honor them and their loved ones, built on hallowed ground containing the ashes and fragments of both the victims and their nineteen murderers who were destroyed and eternally mixed together, all in the same places, in New York, the Pentagon and over Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That these indefensible terrorist minions of Osama bin Laden and his Saudi Wahabbist financiers have also found their final place of rest amongst their victims and us surrounded by such undeserved calm, respect and dignity is an irony too far. But how could we separate one from the other? Only in the mind.
The September 11th Memorial in New York City is a final gesture of recognition and acknowledgement of almost three thousand much loved and forever lost souls, a place of solace, reflection and grieving for the living and in that regard, perhaps some of the 'positive' I am struggling to identify. The Memorial is encircled by new life: The resurrection of a World Trade Center. Perhaps these new structures will also once again achieve iconic status as a global hub of activity, a swirling nucleus where thousands of ambitious and inspired people will come together everyday in an open, tolerant and unrestrained business world. The juxtaposition of the two endeavors; a celebration of our way of life and the other, a memorial to it, are the reminders that life must go on with or without us, in tandem with grief and the sound of silence.