So, this post was originally going to be about how Rylan and I volunteered out at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona this past 9/11, helping to beautify the grounds and clean the headstones. And we'll get into that, but first I want to discuss a little about the way 9/11 makes me feel and especially how I was feeling this specific day and how those feelings changed over the past week.
On 9/11/2001 I had slept in. It was my day off, and I had stayed up most of the night watching movies. When I did finally get up around 10am, I logged into my AOL account, via dial-up, and their rotating news header kept showing an explosion. It finally caught my sleepy eyes enough for me to read the headline, which I misread as, "What IF terrorists attacked the World Trade Center." As the photo kept scrolling by, I started thinking about how it was an amazing artist rendering. I then decided to click on the link and read the article. I was in awe, I was shocked, I couldn't believe what I was reading. I then turned on the news and couldn't stop watching the coverage. By this time it was all over and I was watching reruns of the attacks and live images of the aftermath. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to think. I just kept watching, for hours, for days, it really affected me. I felt sadness for those directly affected and I felt anger for those who conspired and carried out these attacks. I had been there before, I had visited New York City and Washington DC multiple times prior to the attacks. Although I wasn't directly affected by personal loss, it still felt like they took something from me. It wasn't the loss of life or the destruction of buildings, it felt like there was a loss of innocence in a sense. This was the United States of America, and terrorist attacks don't happen here. I know that there have been attacks on US soil before, but you just didn't expect them, you felt safe here. But you especially didn't expect an attack this coordinated and sophisticated, an attack backed by so much hate.
For years, 9/11 has been a day that has brought back a flood of emotion for me, as I think it has for many. Each year I remembered how I felt and tried to honor those that were directly affected and experienced such horrible loss. In 2007 I found myself back in New York on some family business. As I was making the travel arrangements, I was looking to return on 9/11/2007. But then I thought, there is no way that I am flying out of New York City on September 11th! I made my return flight for 9/12, which allowed me to spend some time in Lower Manhattan venturing to Battery Park and Ground Zero (which was a construction site, just a big hole in the ground at the time). It was amazing to see the sights that were so very different from the last time I had been there. It was incredible to hear so many stories from those that were there. There was still so much raw emotion when these people told their stories.
But as the years went by, the emotion behind the day seemed to be less and less. Sure, it was still a day to remember, one that I will never forget, but all those emotions that I used to feel just didn't seem to be there anymore, at least not as strong as they used to be. My involvement with the military has always kept a focus on 9/11, but it has almost changed the meaning of the day for me. That day caused a reaction that put so many service members in harm's way, and caused so many to give the ultimate sacrifice, or as President Lincoln said, "The last full measure of devotion."
As I stated earlier, on this past 9/11, Rylan and I volunteered out at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona helping to beautify the ground and clean the headstones. This was a service project through Carry The Load and America's Mighty Warriors. It was an amazing event, and although there was plenty of sweating and hard work, it felt good to be part of this event. It was a way to incorporate honoring the military with that somber day, it was a way to tie the two together. I am very glad that Rylan asked me to be a part of this, it was the first 9/11 in many years that I could feel some of that emotion again.
Then, a few days later, I stumbled across the new National Geographic series, 9/11: One Day in America, on Disney+, and I couldn't stop watching it. This is a day-in-the-life story told by many who were there. It included video footage that I had never seen before. While it was hard to watch, it was also amazing to hear their stories of survival. And, once again, I was feeling that raw emotion and remembering exactly why we have such reverence for 9/11. I am grateful for the events of this last week that reminded me why we must NEVER FORGET.
New York City, Liberty Island, 1995
New York City, Staten Island, 2007