I remember the silence.
The silence that settled over each of us and spread across our nation as the events of Sept. 11 unfolded before our unbelieving eyes.
On Sept. 10, 2001, my husband Don had surgery for his sleep apnea, which required an overnight hospital stay. On the morning of Sept. 11, we sat there, hand in hand in his hospital room watching on TV as first one plane, then another, flew into the Twin Towers.
Don’s surgery prevented him from talking, but even if it hadn’t, neither of us could speak. Shock, grief, disbelief stole our breath and froze any ability we possessed to speak of the horror playing out on the television set in that hospital room.
We watched people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, away from the burning towers, their stares blank, in shock. Then the towers were gone, taking with them not just the people in the towers, but the first responders who had rushed to their rescue.
No words. That’s another thing I remember from that day. For the most awful things that happen to us, there are no words that capture what we feel. Tears were the only form of expression we had, and they flowed freely.
Word came that another plane had hit the Pentagon; that another plane was missing; then, a plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. All of it was unspeakable. Unspeakable violence against our country, using our own people as weapons.
I think often of the passengers on Flight 93, who due to a delayed takeoff and from phone calls they made to loved ones, knew what had happened to the other planes, knew what the men who had hijacked their plane planned for them. And then they did the most American thing ever: they voted. They elected to fight back and in doing so, thwarted the plans the hijackers had to use them as pawns in their act of terrorism. They were not alone; thousands of heroes died that day.
No matter where you were in the country or the world, Sept. 11, 2001 impacted your life, your worldview.
I went home to my seven-year-old daughter that day and realized how her world had changed in ways she would never know, in ways none of us knew they could change. I don’t know if I even tried to explain to her what happened; if I did, I don’t remember the words I used. How do you explain what you yourself don’t understand?
The silence stretched on, our national grief muffling everything else. Family members desperately searched for missing loved ones as the number of known victims increased.
Growing up, I lived under the flight path of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Our voices would rise and fall with the passing of each plane taking off or landing nearby, the rhythm as natural to us as breathing.
I didn’t realize how accustomed I was to the sight and sound of airplanes in the sky until there weren’t any. Planes were grounded for days and I couldn’t stop noticing the bright blue sky, free of the vapor trails I was used to seeing.
It’s hard to look back now and not see the trails - the trails from the events of that day leading to other events and new policies and wars and the personal impacts of those wars. Twenty years later, the attack on our country on 9-11 continues to impact our nation and its families.
When we bow our heads, in that moment of silence, we remember. We will always remember.