Thursday, September 1, 2011

On that day: 9/11/01

Today is 9/01/11, not 9/11/01, but we are nearly there, nearly ten years to the day. The day we all remember where we were when it happened. Right? You remember where you were when you heard? I was sitting at my kitchen table, up early, working on my laptop trying not to disturb my soon-to-be ex-partner who didn't want to hear my tap-tap-tapping on the computer. I saw the news alert email from the NY Times: plane hits the World Trade Center. What? I thought it must be a small plane that somehow got confused, maybe there was smog, maybe the pilot had a heart attack. I kept working, then a second alert. I jumped up and turned on the TV and saw the pictures of the bright blue sky, the boiling white smoke, the crawl at the bottom of the screen, and I ran in the bedroom and woke my partner, saying "Get up! Get up! the world's gone crazy!" She didn't doubt me for a second, but came straight to the living room where we stayed glued to the tv. As the commentators began to speculate as to who or what group could have planned such a thing, she and I turned to each other and simultaneously said "Osama bin Laden." Where did that come from? We weren't people who read political op-ed pieces, watched political talk shows, but we had watched Sixty Minutes and obviously those pieces had stuck in our minds.
The day before I had seen the last of the attendants off at the airport from a regional conference of the International Centre for Women Playwrights that a few of us had organized here in Portland. We had a wonderful time here with about 40 women from around the country and Canada in attendance, several from NYC. The New Yorkers were very much on my mind that morning, along with my other New York friends. Before long, one of the playwrights who had just been here called me to ask if I'd heard from the others who had been here. I hadn't. She had witnessed the planes flying into the towers from her own balcony, and was obviously in shock. I did my best to calm her, while breathing in her fear into my own lungs through the landline.
I don't know when I've felt more helpless. To be 3,000 miles away from some of your closest friends, seeing the destruction happen live on television is a disempowering experience of the most humbling kind. I still haven't heard all their stories. Out here in the West we were being fed fear with a shovel. We were terrified of every noise in the sky as all flights were grounded. Any large bird caused us to think we were about to be blown to bits. People didn't know whether to duck into doorways, or run outside. Were we safer in our houses or in the parks? All travel was off, of course.
Meanwhile, how could we even think of speaking or writing of our own fears or experiences when they paled so in comparison with those of our East Coast families, friends, compatriots?
Ten years later. It is time. Time for everyone to tell her story. No matter where you were when you heard. Maybe you weren't even born yet when it happened, but now you've heard about it and you want to write about it. Tell your story. It's time. Be heard.

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