I’m not quite sure why this year seems to be harder for me than years past. As I prepare to do a tour on the Memorial Plaza I have found myself heading to the ladies room, taking deep breathes, saying to myself, I will not cry, I will be just fine, I will get through this. It’s not nerves, I’m sure of that. I think it has a lot to do with the visitors coming to the site and wanting to hear the stories of September 11th and me not wanting to disappoint them because I can’t get through a sentence without crying.
I know they understand the tears. They shed them too. But it’s important for me to help them understand that while this tragedy occurred 12 years ago, it still feels like it happened yesterday. I want them to understand that for many of us, September 11th, just doesn’t get easier. I want them to understand the history of the World Trade Center and what was taken from us because of hatred. And I want to always do this to the best of my ability but lately it seems I fall short of that accomplishment. While time is a great healer, for me, in this case, it hasn’t made things any easier. I cry the same way I did 12 years ago.
Last year a family member invited me to join her at the Memorial service. Her son was killed while saving so many people. I was honored that she asked me. I have been on the memorial at least once every week giving tours for almost 2 years since the Memorial opened. This day would be different. Only I didn’t know how much different it would be.
For years before I became a docent at The 9/11 Tribute Center, I had all the televisions on in my home, waiting to hear the names of the six friends who were killed that day. I would cry, pray and cry again. I would see the painful looks on so many family members. I would see young children holding up pictures of an uncle they never met or a father they never knew, and I did this alone. My daughter cannot watch this and my husband finds it too hard to sit through. September 11th is his birthday and he sees it no longer as a day to celebrate his life but a day to honor the six police officers he worked with who died that day. Then when I became a docent, I knew that The Tribute Center was where I had to be on September 11th. It is healing. It is comforting. It is a place where words don’t need to be said. It’s the place to get hugged, held and comforted. So when I was invited to be on the memorial plaza, I could not say no.
I expected to do the same thing I had done years before; wait to hear the names of our six friends plus one more name of the son whose mother kindly asked me to join her. I already knew when the names I was waiting to hear would be called. I did not think that this year, I would hear more than the six names I was used to hearing. I was glued to where I stood for at least an hour hearing the names of many mother’s and wives, husbands, sons and daughters. I knew those names. I met their families. I established so many friendships because of my volunteer work at Tribute and now for the first time in many years, it seemed that I knew many more than the six I had come to mourn each year since 2001. With each name that was called, a face appeared in my mind. The faces of the mother’s I have come to know and love. The faces of father’s who have shared their stories with me at the docent lounge. The faces of the husband’s and wives I’ve come to know about because of our connection at the Tribute Center.
My respect for all these people who lost so much grew ten fold. I could not imagine being one of them. I knew that had my husband not made it out on September 11th alive, I would be one of the many holding up pictures, wearing T-shirts with their loved ones names, I would be one of them. And yet, even though my husband did come home on September 11, I was one of them. I understood and shared their pain. And I cried for more than 75 people.
My husband begins his days of silent solitude the days before 9/11. He sits and stares at the motions of the television but can’t remember what he was watching. He sleeps more but is still tired. He goes with me to run errands but he’s not really there. His nightmares become my nightmares. I am helpless.
It took me a while to convince him to become a docent. I told him he would feel much better talking to people who come from all over the country to hear our stories. He didn’t believe me until he did a tour. It’s helped him heal but the wound still remains raw for him and so many others. And then as I began to write this, hoping I could understand why this year has been so hard for me, trying not to feel like a selfish,ungrateful wife because her husband came home when so many others didn’t, I knew. I knew why it was so hard for me.
My husband was diagnosed a year ago with bladder cancer. He has masses in his kidneys and liver. His sinus’s have been affected to the point where he wakes up coughing because he’s bleeding. He has Bronchiotasis of the lungs. He has RADS, a coughing that just doesn’t stop. He sleeps with an oxygen machine at night. He wakes up fighting in bed, telling someone to “lift it up! I think I see something.” And just as quickly as he says those words, he’s back asleep, shaking and crying. He remembers none of this, he says. But I can see it in his eyes.
He wonders what the rest of his life will be like now that he has joined the ranks of the many rescue workers who are sick and dying. I hear all he has to say because I cannot find the words he needs to hear.
One thing good has come of this. We live each day not as if it is “our last” but as if it is our best. Our last seems too sad. I cry now because I don’t know what it will be like and I am frightened for him. But I know he is a strong man. I know that together our faith in God is what will carry us through no matter what we have to face.
In memory of all those that were killed and all those that have died because of 9/11 related illnesses, find it in your heart to do a random act of kindness. Give someone an extra hug, a bigger smile, a simple hello. Don’t take life for granted. Make each day your best day. And if you are having a bad day, talk it over with God. When your conversation is over, you’ll see it wasn’t so bad after all. God has a way of helping us through the biggest and smallest things in our lives. Be grateful, be thankful, be kind to one another, even strangers, for you do not know what burdens they carry. Most of all, Never Forget.
9/11 was a day filled with the hatred caused by many men. Only they didn’t count on one thing: United we stood… and we are still here in spite of their horrid acts. I know I have become a much stronger person because when it comes to choosing hate or love, I always want to be on the side that makes me a better person and that is always love.
You can choose to mourn that Roses have thorns…. or
Celebrate that thorns have roses.
September 11th, 2001- NEVER FORGET!