Where were you on 9/11?

For my parents, the question was what were you doing when you heard the news that JFK was shot.

For my generation, it is about remembering where we were on September 11, 2001 at those awful moments when planes crashed into the World Trade Center, or during the ensuing destruction and horrible aftermath that were all caught on video.

My response to the question is a confession. I was asleep.

In the spirit of T’shuvah, I must ask for forgiveness. Not from one particular person, per say. Just forgiveness. And of course it comes in the form of a story.

Last July, my husband and I spent a few days in New York City. We have both made many trips to the city before this one, playing tourists, taking our kids to Broadway plays, standing in line for the elevator to go to the top of the Empire State Building, visiting the Museum of Natural History and indulging ourselves at Dylan’s Candy Bar. We’ve also taken both kids to Ground Zero. We’d pretty much covered most of the main landmarks, until this summer.

This summer we visited the 9/11 Memorial.

And this is where my words fail me. I can only share vain attempts at capturing what it felt like to be there.  While I have rave reviews in appreciation for the logistics of its design in terms of accessibility and crowd management, I’ll save that for another post.

For some reason I keep thinking of Percy Shelley’s poem, “Mont Blanc,” that I studied in high school and college and haven’t thought much about since then. The feelings that nature inspired  him to write about in that poem, are similar to the feelings that the memorial inspired in me. The memorial is awe-inspiring, deep, untouchable, sad and beautiful. All at the same time.

I also had a revelation, which leads me to the confession part.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was asleep when the phone rang at about 5:30 a.m.. It was my mother. She  had called to ask me if I knew what was going on and to tell me to turn on the T.V.. I got mad at her for waking me up. I watched for a few minutes and went back to sleep and did not click the T.V. back on until later.

The morning of September 11, 2001 was in the middle of one of the biggest personal crisis of my life. I was in the throes of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad divorce.

I had recently evicted my first husband from our house. I was afraid for my safety. Armed only with the meager protection of a restraining order, I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep and was generally a mess. My daughter was only four years old and the tension and change in our home put her in a constant state of distress. All of my energy was spent taking care of her.

I had taken off work for a while to get our life together. From my perspective at the time, my mother, who knew that my life was in shambles,  chose to wake me up on one of the few mornings that I had actually had a chance to get a bit of sleep and she pissed me off. My feelings were hurt that she had been so inconsiderate.

Of course, by later in the day I  was much more coherent and realized why she had called. I began to pay attention to the events that played out on the television in my remote Wai’anae Valley home on the leeward coast of O’ahu. But not really.

Over the course of the next months I was vaguely aware of the course of the historical events, but it seemed so far away. I cared, but not with my heart. I was so selfishly wrapped up in the details of the most terrible thing that had ever happened to me and distracted by the tasks of putting  life back together for both me and my daughter, that I never made an emotional connection to the horrible magnitude of 9/11.

Not until this summer. Not until I visited the 9/11 Memorial.

Standing with my second husband next to the deep well of the memorial, reflecting on the names inscribed around it  and absorbing the profound spirit that the quiet space evokes, I filled with regret.

I should have paid more attention….with my heart. I am sorry.

When we took photos at the memorial I couldn’t bring myself to smile for the camera. It felt disrespectful. I needed to assume a solemn pose, one that reflected in my demeanor the heaviness that I felt inside. I needed to honor those that were lost and those that were heroes during this grave moment of our history. I  am sorry that I didn’t do it sooner.

During the same trip, I visited my friend, Anne Blumenstein, in New Jersey. Her grade school aged son was obsessed with the construction of the “Freedom Tower” and all factual information surrounding it, as some boys that age can be. Anne told me that the father of one of her son’s classmates had died in the World Trade Center while his mother had been pregnant with  the boy at the time. Thus Anne’s son’s keen interest and empathy. A whole new level for his generation’s  questions and stories.

Which leads me back to where I started and so I ask again, where were you on 9/11?

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hal & Terry
    Sep 09, 2012 @ 21:42:14


    A beautiful, well written Blog that makes up a hundred times for your personal justified distractions on 9/11. Your lack of focus on 9/11 was completely understandable due to your personal crises at the time.

    Love, Hal


  2. Judy
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 03:01:28

    On September 10th we were headed to Florida to attend a dear friend’s funeral. Our planned 3:15 PM plane never took off until 9:15 PM. All we received were delays. The excuses for delays were, no equipment, referring to planes… A fire in the airport that closed down Newark Interenational.. 6 Hours of waiting. Finally, taking off at 9:15 pm. At 2 am we reached our destination. To this day, we believe that the delays were from information or a tip that the airport could not substantiate or publicize of a near future happening. On 9/11 the next morning at 9:10, we watched the news and were shocked. We also watched the 2nd plane as it careened into the second building and then heard of the 3rd plane from Newark airport that crashed in Pennsylvania. We could not believe it all. May the people who lost their lives rest in peace and no, we will never forget.


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