We’re all looking for words to describe our feelings as the September 11th tragedy is marked at tenth anniversary ceremonies in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, and many communities such as Merced.
I was still looking for words as I prepared this column. What I found were memories of that day that are just as fresh in my mind as they were ten years ago, writings from a source dating back exactly ten years, and an old American Flag.
On that day in 2001, I was at my upstate New York office when a friend of a co-worker called to tell us what had happened. We immediately turned on our radios and began searching for details on the internet.
We did not have television service at our office, so our only real connection to the outside world was through radio and the web. The first image I saw of the plane hitting the second tower was a still image on the CNN website.
Our staff sat around in shock as we saw more pictures, heard more details, and began talking with friends and business associates coming to our office.
I was the lead staff person for a committee that was meeting during the lunch hour. None of us at that meeting felt like working or eating. Somehow, we got through the meeting and somehow we got through that workday.
I was also teaching a college course part time and September 11 was a class day. My class would meet in the late afternoon after my regular workday was finished.
I called my department chair Joe Bulsys at the college to ask whether the class would meet. If it did meet, I needed some guidance as to how to handle the students who were most likely seeing a day that would be etched in their memory for a lifetime.
Joe told me that the college President had not formally cancelled classes and that I should go to the classroom with no plan to teach that day’s lesson. He suggested I tell the students they could leave if they wished, and invite them to remain there and watch the television news coverage along with me in the classroom.
About half of the class showed up, and about half of those chose to leave at the beginning of the class period. I stayed with the others for the next hour as we watched the network coverage on television.
When I got home at the end of the day, my two teenage daughters were watching the coverage from our living room. My wife Vaune and I sat with them quietly as the broadcasts continued.
I began keeping a journal in the months following my Mother’s death in 2000. I intended to use the journal to write my memories of her and to help me deal with the loss. I located that first journal over the weekend and found that I had an entry dated September 12, 2001.
From my September 12, 2001 entry:
A day after the tragedy in NYC and Washington. Everyone is shocked by the events. Vaune and I went to church last night where a very beautiful prayer service was held. They burned incense in a pottery bowl throughout the service. To me, it represented the ongoing stream of sadness and pain so many of us were feeling….
Why was there so much pain inflicted on so many people? .. This is a time of “why us, why now?”
I know I don’t have an answer and probably will never get an answer. I ask God to help me through this, ..and to touch each family dealing with the loss of loved ones in the bombings.
We have an American Flag handed down to us by my wife’s grandmother. She came to this country as a young woman from Italy. Her husband worked the coalmines of Pennsylvania and would eventually die before his time from lung disease.
The flag is worn and has some mildew marks from being stored while wet during the years she would fly it in front of her Pennsylvania home. It has forty-eight stars.
The reds and blues are not as brilliant as the synthetic flags that are manufactured today.
The white has long lost its’ sharpness.
But my wife and I wouldn’t think of putting any other flag in front of our house on those special days when we display it so proudly.
We fly our family heirloom American flag on special occasions every year such as Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day.
In recent years, we’ve added September 11 as a day when that cherished family heirloom is displayed on our front porch.
We will never forget.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced