I’ve been sitting in front of my computer monitor for almost 2 days now, trying to write something about September 11th. The words are in my head, the thoughts and emotions are in my heart but somehow, they won’t come out to make any kind of sense.
I want my words to honor those that were killed on September 11th but each time I try to type something I feel the tears stinging my eyes and I’m reminded that I cannot forget that day, five years ago. People have told me it’s time to move on. I thought I had. In fact, I know I have. I’ve continued to live my life in spite of the fear that lingers in my heart. I’ve continued to go into Manhattan defying the odds that something might happen on that day. No one could have expected an attack on September 11th, so any day that you are in the city, can be a day when the hatred of others comes to visit.
But I’m not the same. I go into Manhattan holding onto my backpack with “just in case items.” I never did that before. I remember how alone I felt in a city that’s been my home since the day I was born. There were many people around me that day, but somehow, I felt alone. I wonder now if any one else felt that way. I remember how I would have given anything to have comfortable shoes on that day or a mint to soothe my dry throat. I remember how taking a sip of water felt like such a luxury. I think about the out of Towner’s who came into Manhattan that day not knowing where to go or what to do and me feeling the same way. I knew where I was, but I couldn’t feel anything else. I had a lump in my throat but for some reason I felt if I gave into it, I would lose it. I knew I had to get home to my daughter who was alone, watching the horror unfold on the television, worried that her father was down there, at Ground Zero, and me trying to work my way back home, caught in the midst of all the chaos.
I keep thinking about how every hour or so, as I watched the news on a television in the lobby of a hotel I kept waiting for someone to say that we were watching a movie. No, I kept hoping. I prayed that I would wake up soon from this nightmare and that I’d be in the arms of my loved ones. As the hours clicked on by, I wondered how long this nightmare would end. There seemed no end to it. I finally got through to my husband that day and I could hear in his voice the fear, the pain, the hurt and the disbelief. I thought about the many times he would call me after he had made an arrest or was involved in some bizarre episode in the city of New York and I would hear anger in his voice as he vented his frustrations. I heard none that day. I saw none that day. I think the world was in too much shock to feel anger.
But today, almost five years later, I feel numb. I feel shock. I can’t feel anger? Does that mean I don’t feel fury towards the people responsible for this? I do. Of course I do. I’m talking about the kind of anger one feels when something unexpected and unpleasant happens to them and they can’t understand the reasons why. Anger takes over until they can reason with all that’s happened. But I don’t think about the anger. Somehow, I can’t. I don’t like how it makes me feel and the things I think of. For some reason feeling anger makes me feel disrespectful to all those that were killed that day. But what’s left? If I don’t feel anger, then what’s left is grief, hurt and shock. Some would say it’s like being between a rock and a hard place but for me it’s not. For me, I’d rather feel the pain and the hurt than the anger. It’s anger that led to hatred that led to the travesty of that day. To think of anger would put me in the same group as those responsible for this. Anger serves no purpose. It doesn’t allow healing. Is it wrong however to think that I’d like to feel outrage after all this time? I’ve thought often enough that maybe if I did feel enrage, the rest of these emotions would somehow subside, go away or maybe I can begin to heal? Does anger help replace all of these other emotions? Does anger help start the healing process? I don’t really know for sure. But then again why do I want an emotion so negative to replace something that hurts so much?
I’ve felt anger about a lot of things. Sometimes it would come slowly, in bits and pieces and admittedly there were many times after holding in this emotion, I’d give into it and afterwards I felt better. That’s a different kind of anger I suppose. I’m not sure. Anger is anger. I don’t want to scream and ask WHY GOD WHY? I know why. And yet, I get angry when I hear people say, “If there was a God, where was he on that day?” He was there. I know he was there. He kept many people safe that day. He helped many come home to their loved ones. He was there, so please don’t make me angry by saying he wasn’t. Don’t point to the emptiness of the New York Sky Line and tell me, where is it, if God was there. He was there. That’s all I need to know, that’s enough for me. If that makes me a blind person then that’s fine with me. My blindness allows me to see God and what a beautiful vision that is.
The thing I can’t seem to get over is that this all feels like it happened yesterday. It happened 5 years ago, 60 months ago, 1,825 days ago and yet, when I think about it the tears that flow down my face makes it feel as if it’s happening right this minute. I watch the documentaries on the television, especially the one last night on The Discovery Channel and I could feel the anxiety of every one in the towers that day. I could feel the heat of the smoke. My throat felt tight because of the lump that found its way there. I kept saying to myself I was not going to cry but my wet face betrayed me. I wanted to feel angry because I thought it might make me feel something other than what I have been feeling all these years but I just couldn’t.
I watched the documentary like a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. I felt numb and yet I still feel pain. I watched as one of the survivors talked about his guilt. Somehow I understood what he was talking about. I wasn’t in the towers on that day, but there were many days after 911, that I found myself hugging a pillow thanking God for letting me come home safe and sound. I felt selfish for thinking how lucky I was to be alive. I had a flipping rolodex of emotions for days after 911 and all because I was home with my family and so many others weren’t.I found myself softly speaking in a hurried tone while watching the documentary, telling every one on the tube to run, to get out now as if doing that could change the events that had already happened.
Then I closed my eyes when it was all over and visualized the buildings in my mind. I created a different scenario in my head. I saw another September 11th. The men responsible for this had a change of heart. They realized that they couldn’t do this to so many and to their own families. And the tears rushing down the sides of my temples, into my ears, were a reminder that it was all a dream.
But I dream of this often. It helps with the anger that doesn’t seem to want to come out.
Two days before September 11th, 2006
I spoke to a friend of mine today. I’m not quite sure how the conversation started or why. I think I started the thread by telling her that I was preparing a small dinner party for my husband whose birthday is September 11th and even though last year we did celebrate it on September 11th, it still felt a little strange. However, we made a choice to celebrate life, not only his life but the life of so many others that were saved that day. We also honored those that were killed. There is just no way around it. I don’t want there to be.
The next thing I know I’m hearing about her day, five years ago. I’m reliving her day. I’m feeling her emotions. And then I realize how many other stories are out there; real stories, stories about life and love and survival. Neither one of us had to be at the towers to feel as if we were survivors. Simply being an American on that day is all that is needed. But in speaking with her, I felt a sense of connection. Something I hadn’t felt in five years. Suddenly the memories of feeling alone that day came back but in a different way. I understood why I felt alone and now five years later I know I wasn’t. What really got to me about our conversation was how she apologized for telling me how she felt. And I smiled. For the first time in a few days, I found myself smiling. It wasn’t a smile of happiness but a smile of acknowledgement. I was in good company. All these years I lived in a little cocoon of guilt. Guilt for thinking of my husbands safe return while so many were hurting; while so many died. All these years I thought of the memorial services and how I could be amongst those that placed the flowers in the footprints of what used to be my city’s two front teeth across its beautiful sky line. And all these years there was someone out there with a story of her own, a different story of survival; a story just the same.
One day before September 11th, 2006
Tomorrow is September 11th. Tomorrow we all stop and remember what that day means to all of us as individuals and as a nation. I think how will tomorrow be perceived ten years from now? I contemplate about how I feel now five years later and speculate if I’ll feel as strongly ten years later. I mull over the article I read a few days ago about a group of people that want to make September 11th a national holiday and while I comprehend why some would want this, I can’t help thinking no. I see visions of children sleeping in bed late, happy not to have to go to school, the newspaper circulars filled with sales for that special holiday and it saddens me. I brood over this because of what they’ve turned Veterans Day into. It will be a matter of time before September 11th becomes another shopping day for American’s. Some say that will never happen, but stop a bunch of people in the street now and ask them what happened, December 6th, November 11th and some can’t even tell you. They even turned Memorial Day into a three day weekend so folks can celebrate the beginning of summer. I just can’t see that happening again with September 11th.
Five years ago, I sat in front of my television. I stared at the same scenes hour after hour. I knew in my heart that I could not change the events of that day, but I also knew I had to do something. Sitting in front of the television was not honoring any one. It was just heightening my fear, creating another world I did not want to live in because of the hatred of one man.
I searched through the arts and crafts left untouched for a few years in my spare room and found some red white and blue ribbons. I began to make patriotic ribbons. At that time, I just wanted to wear mine with pride. I wanted to wear those colors in defiance. I wanted to show any one who would look at me that I was a proud American. I wanted those ribbons to speak, to have a voice. I became obsessed over those colors. Three hours later, when I stood up to make dinner for my daughter I saw that I had made over 200 of them.
The next day, the ribbons found their way into my pocketbook which was now much heavier than it was three days before. They rested next to my mini flashlight, my mini portable radio and earphones, my box of mints, gum and water bottle. When I dropped my daughter off at school, I headed to the supermarket. As I walked by the aisles, I began to hand out my ribbons. The look on people’s faces was amazing. No one questioned me. Every one accepted my gift with a thank you, some even hugged me. I drove to the craft shop and bought more ribbons, different styles, different sizes, and different shapes. I began to make more ribbons, each one taking on a life of its own. And when all the spools were empty, I found that I had made over a thousand ribbons in two days. I knew what I wanted to do. I made more ribbons, this time one for each person that was killed in all three attacks. Attached to each ribbon was a tag with the following:
My mission is to make one ribbon for each life lost on 911. Each ribbon is different, representing the diverse cultures, nationalities, religions and personalities. But the colors are the same because on that day, it didn’t matter if we were Black, White, Asian, Jewish or Latino. We were all Americans. Wear the ribbon close to your heart, where love and life grows to honor those that died.
I began to hand out my ribbons each and every day. People began to email me requesting ribbons for their family and friends. Before I knew it, I was making more ribbons and with each one, I said a silent prayer for every one that died that day. I vowed I would not stop until I had handed out each and every one of them. My ribbons made it to almost every state in our nation. They went as far as Ireland, Ecuador and England. Even when cancer paid me a visit a month later, my mission was to succeed. And I did.
I know those ribbons will not bring any one back. I know it will not make that day disappear. But for me it was one of the ways I had to cope with what happened. It’s where I chose to place my anger. It was how I chose to honor those that were killed.
What can I do now, five years later? What can any one do? September 11th is a day to remember; a day to mourn and a day to honor as well. I don’t need a legal holiday to remind me of what happened that day. It’s embedded in my heart, it lives in my soul.
What will you do to honor that day?
In honor of all those that were killed on September 11th, 2001….You will NEVER be forgotten.
Copyright © 2006 by Sonia Agron