Monday, September 12, 2016

15 Years and the Morning After

What do you do in the moments after the shock of a trauma have passed?

This morning, I think back to the day after our nation's terrible losses on 9/11. It was fifteen years ago, and that day lives in my memory as a feeling, not simply an event.

Time travel IS possible; all it takes is one photo to deliver me back to the shallow breathing and staggering disbelief of that morning. I still physically react to the photos of the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers, and the aftermath.

My memory is so intense, I feel 9/11 instead of simply recalling it: the crisp newly-autumn feel in the St. Louis air that day. The feeling that I forgot to breathe and needed to gasp in order to catch up with the four heartbeats that just pounded through my chest. The woozy waves of disgust that churned my stomach as I realized human beings willingly did this to other human beings. The tightened shoulders that intangibly grabbed the weight of grief for survivors who started posting photos of missing family and loved ones in New York City - and grief that dog-piled on when I realized two more planes were involved.

My mind raced, too: the topsy-turvy doubts because what I believed to be safe was called into question. The human instincts of fight or flight that took over as I swung between wanting to kick someone's tail and wanting to run to the arms of my family and neighbors so I could again feel the safety of community.

I was afraid. We were afraid.

Mercifully, 9/11 ended and the sun rose on the morning of September 12. As a nation, we weren't capable of comprehension yet. It would be months and, for some, years before we would reach that point. And to be honest, on yesterday's 15th anniversary, there were still pieces missing for me in the puzzle of comprehension.

What did we do between the trauma and the comprehension? How did we face the morning after?

I remember doing the same thing then that I find myself doing today: I watched and listened and felt and held and prayed and learned.

I was hungry for stories that would help me own the grief. And even though the grief was not a burden I wanted to carry, I knew turning from it would mean allowing evil to cozy up close to me.

This is why, fifteen years after the day after, I am still seeking stories. I want to feel the heaviness again, because I want to remember the feelings and not only the moments as detached events. Remembering the loss and the incredible compassion that came after it is how we fight back against the darkness and evil.

Our enemy wants us to forget how we felt fifteen years ago. Our enemy wants us to be numb to the pain; numbing equals a lack of feeling which equals inaction which - to our enemy - is just as good as getting permission to stir the chaos all over again.

NOT on my watch!

So, even fifteen years later, I seek and I feel and I pray and I learn. I hold space for sadness to come sit with me again, and I don't push it away prematurely.

This year, I invited sadness to come sit with my kids for the first time, too. This wasn't like in years past, when I glossed over the details to spare them pain. This year, we watched the videos of what happened on 9/11 and I retold them stories of sacrifice from Flight 93 and New York City and Washington, D.C.

Grief and remembering are intertwined like the arms I wrap around my kids at bedtime. I won't forget the losses of 9/11, and I won't stop spending my September 12s learning and seeking and listening and watching and telling.

If you would like to join me, here are just a few of the stories and tributes I'm watching and sharing with my kids:

  • This music video helps me remember the day's extreme evil and extreme goodness.
  • The Man in the Red Bandana tells the story of Welles Crowther and his heroism in the South tower or the World Trade Center.
  • Todd Beamer was one of the heroes of Flight 93. His oldest son is playing football at his dad's alma mater.

And here's a video of my own, taken last Friday at Art Hill in St. Louis, MO. A group called America's Heartland Remembers placed 6,783 flags with dog tags and photos to commemorate the military members who gave their lives in the war on terror since 9/11. The video shows the wind blowing through the flags and shaking the metal dog tags, each representing a life that ended too soon. The dead still speak, if we stop long enough to hear their echoes. #FlagsOfValor #HonorTheFallen


Stephanie Haynes said...

Beautifully stated Elizabeth. I love the "not on my watch" part and how you invite others into the battle against apathy with you. Thank you for the reminder that the enemy wants to keep us complacent.

Dorothy Johnson said...

I agree. We must not forget 9/11 and all the people affected by its mind-numbing brutality. Thank you for reminding us.

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