I was 22 when the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 took place. It’s hard to believe that soon, more of my life will have taken place after this date than before. Twenty-one also tends to be a “milestone” year; in the United States, it’s the age that a person is legally allowed to purchase and consume alcohol – unless you’re on a military base. It also means my first blog will soon be celebrating its 21st birthday – one of the first topics I remember reading about was people’s recollections about their experiences that day, because like few other things, there was a sense of shared experience.
I remember where I was on 11 September 2001. I remember where I was on 11 September 2002. I remember where I was on 11 September 2007. However it happened to turn out, those first six anniversaries were all experienced abroad. The day certainly changed my life, not that I was lining up at the nearest recruiting station to join the military, but that I felt that I was being called to something, and as much as I liked my job and circle of friends and life was pretty stable, even just the week before, God had been laying the underpinnings to be able to hear that call and be able to go.
I keep kind of dreading thinking about what I should write on the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11, because I really have nothing new, and it’s not like in the meantime we’ve achieved world peace or even become a more virtuous society. If anything, it seems just the opposite. On the other hand, to forget is terrible too, not only does it write off the lives lost that day, but all who suffered and died in its name in the ensuing years.
It’s surprising how much emotion regarding that day is still buried in my heart. A couple of years ago, a young man who was a teenager at the time started talking to me about 9/11 as a “truther”. I started crying; he had been 2 at the time that it happened – he has no real memory of the event or the aftermath – but regardless of what you believe, the memories of people jumping out of the windows in the World Trade Center, or the ambulances lined up at the ground, then rendered forever inoperable by debris and ash can’t be un-remembered.
I think the only 9/11 ceremony I ever attended was in 2007, in Moscow, of all places. It was at the Orthodox Church in America’s Representation Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr. I happened to be in Moscow at the time, and it was recommended to me by my future husband that I contact the priest there, since the priest had been a friend of his family’s for many years. I did, and this priest told me that there would be this commemoration, and that I was welcome to come, so I did.
The church itself is fairly small, and odd in the sense that the main entrances are from the sides. What I didn’t realize was that besides all the VIPs showing up for this event, including the US Ambassador to Russia, there was a bit of a media circus as multiple news organizations were there to cover this. The result made it feel much less like a memorial!
I’m not saying that anyone was blatantly disrespectful here, but between the VIPs and the guys who are moving around for the best camera angle and sound, the atmosphere was relatively circus-like.
After the church service, everyone moved over to the courtyard, where there was a small program over by this memorial bell. And while it is nowhere on the scale of the Russian 9/11 memorial in New Jersey, it seemed to accentuate the fact that at that time, at least, the remembrance of 9/11 was happening at least as much in Moscow as it was in the US. (I was actually stunned to see how much there was!)
If anything, 9/11 drove home for me that I am an American. Sure, there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, but one of the interesting things about travelling, studying, living, and working abroad is seeing what “American” means to others. I’m not a German who grew up in Germany because all my ancestors back a thousand years or more lived and died in the same place. Some people along the way picked up and said, “We are looking for opportunity and freedom,” and I am the heir to that. It makes being American different, and that, of course, draws the hatred of some. Regardless of America’s sins, each one of us either has to choose to be proud of the heritage and work to continue it, or be ashamed and work to tear it down. There’s a lot of tearing down going on at the moment, from the highest ranks, it seems, but I always hope to be one who lives to build up.
P.S. There is ONE song that I feel does something to capture 9/11, and that is “There are no Words” by Kitty Donohoe. She has a version of this as well, but almost immediately, Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame) did a cover which was phenomenal. I lost my copy of it, and searched for over a decade for it before finding it again. However, FINALLY, he’s got a live recording of it on YouTube, and I share that with you now:
3 thoughts on “9-11-01 + 21”
I did not know Russia honored our loss with memorials.
It’s pretty amazing, all things considered.