Saturday, September 10, 2011

The hold that 9/11 still has on me

I watched the second tower fall on the giant screens of Florida's State Emergency Operations Center. At 10 AM I instinctively decided to head for the EOC and was already there when the alert notification was broadcast to all the state agencies that the EOC was moved to Full Activation status. As I walked out of my office a good friend told me that a plane had also crashed into the Pentagon. As I drove I was unable to stop myself from crying.

To this day I have wondered at my powerful emotional reaction to the attack at the time and since. I wasn't present at the WTC or the Pentagon. A great many of us witnessed the events on television but being AT the disaster is entirely different. As many who have been to large disasters can attest television cannot completely capture the experience.

I did not know anyone who was killed that day, nor did I know anyone who had an emotional attachment to someone who died. So why, as I read and saw once again the images of that Day as they were surfaced for the tenth anniversary, did I feel tears welling in my eyes again?

The events of the day certainly changed my life. Eighteen months after the attack I was riding in a Humvee from Kuwait into Iraq. But they event that crystalized the whole experience for me occurred not on 9/11 but on Friday, 9/14, at the memorial service in the National Cahredral. Still in the EOC, I watched the assemblage of the President and the other senior leaders on a television in a side room. At the end of the service, as the crowd left, the chorus sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The song hit me like a thunderbolt with the message that we were at war. Alone in a room I was filled with a terrible grief and tears welled in my eyes. I didn't grieve for a person, a place or a thing. I'm no sure what I grieved for then, or what I continue to grieve for now. I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of loss.

Something was taken away from all of us who lived through that day, no matter where we were. After ten years, I am still unable to put into words what it was that I lost. I sense the hole but cannot divine what used to occupy the space.

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