Up until this morning, my knowledge of 9/11 and the attacks on the World Trade Center were confined to narrated media footage, countless articles... my imagination. I wasn't in New York City on September 11th. I wasn't a survivor. I awoke to the media coverage half-way across the country. For me, today was the first time I saw it first-hand. First-hand from the American who happened to have a video camera handy. First-hand from the emergency worker standing at the foot of the towers before they fell. First-hand from an on-looker unaware that the fires above him would soon be something far more frightening. First-hand from a fireman whose name is now written on a monument in Lower Manhattan.
9/11 through the media coverage was shocking. Frightening. Distant. 9/11 from the camera of an eye-witness is terrifying. Raw. Personal.
Yesterday, on this 10th anniversary of 9/11, I wanted to remember. To reflect. To be thankful. I picked three of the 9/11 programs on television, and spent a few hours revisiting various topics about the day.
One of the programs I selected was that of 9/11 as documented through the raw camera footage of first-hand witnesses. No narration. No media reporters trying to break a story. Just life as it happened. Life as it was experienced.
And, as expected, I was introduced to a great deal of imagery I never imagined: Young people watching from their high-rise apartment a mile away from Ground Zero... watching... wondering... seeing the towers one minute, then gone the next. // Two wide-eyed little children... a confused little girl saying, "The World Trade Center... it's not there." // Listening to radio communication with firemen in the south tower documenting their climb up to the 70th floor.... moments before the tower collapsed to the ground. // Listening to emergency workers, covered in dust, panting for water, drinking their fill, then putting their gear back on... and going right back into the cloud of debris. // Following along with an army -- a sea -- of newly-arrived firefighters, flowing down a New York street toward the wreckage of the first tower, heavy fire hoses wrapped around their shoulders.... only to see those same men moments later, standing silent, stunned, as the dust from the second tower swirled around them. // Watching as a bewildered businessman shuffled slowly out of the cloud, alone, his clothing hanging off of him, covered in dust... dragging his briefcase behind him, and asking... "Where is everyone going?" // Watching as people exited the World Trade Center buildings before they fell... knowing that THEY were the lucky ones. // Seeing stunned New Yorkers in Times Square, looking up, watching the media coverage... their mouths open in horror. // Watching people stand agape at the jumpers choosing free-fall over burning flames.
That's what I saw this morning. 9/11. Real. First-hand.
Ten years ago on a Tuesday, I awoke to the media coverage from my college apartment -- safe in the confines of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first tower had already fallen. I was awake to see the rest. I was heartbroken, transfixed, angry. I didn't attend any of my classes that day. My heart just wasn't in it.
Today I saw 9/11 from a different perspective. I'll never forget it.
The United States is my home. I'm proud to live here. I'm blessed to live here. I will always remember 9/11. The loss... the unsung heroes... the servicemen and woman... the way it changed my life.
I can forgive (or try to forgive) those who enact their bitter hatred upon my country. I can move on. But I will never forget. Because... it is when we forget that past, when we stop remembering, when we ignor what came before... that is when we doom ourselves to repeat it.
And I don't wish to remember another 9/11.