Stories We Tell: A 9/11 Tribute
The story of 9/11, in my mind, started with my dad leaning over my bed to kiss me goodbye. He was about to take a plane to Amsterdam. Yet the air around me seemed to shudder. And halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness, all I could think was, “Something’s not right…”
Everyone knows where they were during that day when the breath seemed to catch our throats and our bodies began shaking in grief. Some people had loved ones in the buildings or the planes. Others lost people who were on the ground. The stories are all different, yet somehow the same. Either way, we lost something of ourselves that day as Americans that we have been clamoring forever to get back by any means necessary.
As the years go on, we tell the tales of where we were that day. The stories of who we lost, and now, the stories of the people who have someone defied the darkness that marks this day — babies born, celebrations taking place despite the horrors. We weave our words to help heal the scars that have been left behind, when in truth they don’t really fade.
In recent days, I have been listening to StoryCorps, an nonprofit organization dedicated to recording moments in the lives of everyday people. One of their missions has been to record the stories of all the people who were in the twin towers by getting their tales from the people they left behind. The stories were seemingly simple: A man who lost his fiancée after dropping her off for work, a woman whose ex-husband called from the 103rd floor to tell her he always loved her, a man who lost his two sons, a firefighter and a police officer. Every 9/11 story resonated like it was the first one I ever heard.
Lots of people like to dismiss stories. They are a waste of space and time, they don’t mean anything. After 9/11, I decided that I should become a journalist, but in my years of being such in my career I was often screamed at and dismissed for my interest in more narrative focus rather than traditional pyramid style newspaper writing. My editor in Santa Clarita would yell at me daily about being the worst writer he had ever seen; a sentiment that shifted once I switched over to the business desk.
As I met people who poured their hearts and souls into opening up their little shops, talked to people on the phone whose passion resonated through tones, I saw the power of stories: An immigrant man who sought to make a new life for his family. Two movie directors who never forgot where they got their start. A single mother who found her calling in doing for others what they couldn’t do for themselves. All of them were beautiful; all of them were real. Their stories made my words shine. These were the stories I would miss over the years as I fell into desperation and darkness.
We do tend to forget things as time slips away from us as other emotions settle in to replace the sadness, such as anger and fear. We forget the story of that day that shaped us, that 9/11 where a whole country cried out and forgot all the things that divided us and remembered the things that united us. How strange it is now that we are a country more divided than ever before, where lines have been drawn in stone rather than sand that the tides can take away, where chaos and ego reign over restraint and the common good. In our blindness, other lives would fall throughout the world in addition to the ones here.
The words of a friend of mine resonate in my head after my divorce: We would take three steps forward, but then have to take two steps back. The one step was still there, and although we were shaky on it, we had to figure out the path to take to make it right again. I’m hoping we’ll get there. We may, we may not.
In the meantime, we all carry our own stories from the darkest days, whether on 9/11 or in the years to come. The tales we tell shape the people who we are, make sense of the universe and all its strange complexities, of both tragedy and time.
It took me forever to find mine. It is the story of a girl who would fall into darkness, but pulled herself out of it. She had her heart trampled on and broken, felt despair as life threw her curve ball after curve ball, but yet never gave up. She created a new life for herself despite the odds; wanted to quit, but her body wouldn’t let her. Although she would never forget the depraved times of her life, she would remember them while living in the light, because that’s the only way she would survive. I was hoping that the people from the StoryCorps 9/11 project found those types of endings for their stories, too. We may never know.
On this solemn day, I try to remember the people of this country, individuals who lived normal, non-extraordinary lives who had the worst of extraordinary circumstances happen to them. The children without fathers, the husbands without wives, the ones who tried to run but eventually had death catch up to them. Each of them has something to say, and each story they tell is vital to us as human beings.
I want to remember those who had lives that were just beginning, loved ones they wanted to kiss goodnight, hours of conversations that were meant to be had but were cut short with the knife of tragedy. I want to remember the heroes who were willing to lay down their lives for those people, not those who were standing on the sidelines, biding their time to exploit it for their own gains. These stories aren’t complex, although the sheer number of them threatens to drown us in grief. But for their sake, we must never forget.
These people, these stories are the ones that keep us going, because they remind us that love is the greatest power in the universe, and you can’t smoke it out of us. It binds us forever so that not even death can steal it from us; instead, we pass it on. Today, go beyond remembering the over 3,000 people who lost their lives, because every number there is one soul, one life, one voice that we should do everything in our power to keep from being silenced forever.