(I am participating in Project 2996. Follow the link to find other stories, or to help out with a tribute.)
It is right that we remember those who lost their lives on this day. Their death has had a huge impact on so many of us. But when I heard about this project, I felt strongly compelled to write about the “other” victims–better labelled as “survivors” . . . because they outnumber those we’ve lost, and yet we seem to sometimes forget about the ones that still live in the shadow of that day.
A friend of mine has posted several reflections on his experiences on and after that day. You can find his story here. I should warn you that it is NOT light reading, but maybe after reading it, you will better understand my frustration with those who seek to appropriate this day, with patriotic song-fests instead of solemn vigils, and with no-clue tourists who see “Ground Zero” as just another site on their list of “things to do in NYC”.
(I know, I know . . . not every person who didn’t live in close proximity to NYC, DC, or PA on that day deserves the “no-clue tourists” label–but there are some that do, and it is in large part for those people that I am writing this post.)
My friend Ken’s story is just one of thousands upon thousands. I have other friends whose lives were profoundly shaken by what they witnessed on that day, and know others still who waited in vain for someone (or several someones, or MANY someones) they loved to come home.
If *I* (and I consider myself “lucky” to have experienced relatively few losses on that day) wince at commercials for a movie that “opens September 11th!”, and shy away from hosting a Tupperware party on this date because somehow that level of enthusiasm seemed horribly disrespectful to me (let alone the people in 2005 who chose that as their WEDDING date), then what do these reminders, myriad and subtle, do to someone who lost loved ones on this day eight years ago?
What does it feel like to those who walked down 84 or 52 or 12 or 112 flights of stairs and whose lives were spared, to those who made their way home through clouds of smoke and stench, or who watched, helpless and numb, from across the river as the towers fell?
Or what does it feel like to be the main character in one of those wonderful-yet-horrible stories of “fate/luck” survival . . . like the friend-of-a-friend who overslept and was late to his job (at Cantor Fitzgerald) because he had attended a Michael Jackson concert the night before?
Or what is this day like for those who are watching their family members and fellow employees who are succumbing to illnesses that are clearly related to their rescue work at the site? How do they feel about people coming and gawking at the empty hole where their own lives started to end?
Yes, I am willing to acknowledge that we were all changed on that day, but for some, this day is only sad in the way a celebrity’s death is sad . . . when you hear it on the news, you feel that sadness for a moment, but then you move on. For others, though, it is embedded deep within them, as if the smells and sights and sounds of that day have been embedded into their psyche.
It is these survivors that I want to pay tribute to today.
Yes, life goes on, and I don’t mean to suggest that we should curl up in a ball and stop living . . . those who have survived that day certainly haven’t done that, though they would have every reason to.
I just ask that we remember those whose hearts are raw today in a way that those of us who haven’t lived it can’t understand, and that those of us who are hundreds or thousands of miles away from the eye of this storm stop to remember and to reflect upon the damage that this storm left in its wake.
To do so is to honor the memory of those who live on, as well as those who were lost on this day.