Sunday, September 11, 2011
  Never Forget.
I have no idea.

No idea if September 11, 2001 was the worst day of my life.  Or if it was September 12.

Was it the day the Towers were struck by two jumbo jets, the Pentagon attacked by another, and a fourth plane went down in a field in Shanksville, Pa.?

Or was it a day later, when internet service was restored and I found out a good friend and his girlfriend were on United 175?  And heard the countless number of stories of near misses and, sadly, direct hits.

I have no idea.

No idea whether the smell of dry wall, the sound of fighter jets circling at low altitude, or loud, sudden, unpredictable thuds give me the most agita.

No idea if, twice a day, I'll catch a look at the digital clock at exactly 9:11.  Or 8:46.  Or 9:03.

No idea if I will spontaneously and automatically start sobbing when my iPod will play U2's "Walk On," Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," or JFK's inaugural speech when its on random shuffle on the drive to work.

I have no idea how to react, feel, deal, cope, accept, and move on from September 11, 2001.

Any previous attempts have been fruitless.
No idea if I have moved on from that day.

Have I adapted?  I assume so.

All this week, I have tried to block out much of the revisiting, rehashing, and replaying of that horrible day.

It is everywhere on the news right now.  The utter convenience of the news cycle.  But it is more than that for me.  It has been everyday for me.  It has been everyday with me.  Every single day for the last decade.
Shortly after the attacks and collapse of the Towers, Grand Central Station was an introduction into the post-terror world.  Every square inch of wall space was filled with flyers, asking our fellow citizens if they have seen their loved ones. 

Beloved daughters.  Dear sons.  Loving husbands.  Mothers of three.  Frat brothers.  Big sisters. 

Flyers with smiling faces on the photos, stats with the individual's height, weight, hair color, eye color, all posted by grieving, soon-to-be widows, soon-to-be orphaned children, sad relatives, desperate friends.  They had phone numbers and email addresses.  Too many to process.

And in the cruelest irony, quite often, the phones didn't ring.  Verizon's wires were severed when the Towers went down.  And the internet suffered as well.  Information, like most everything in New York City, was at a shell-shocked standstill.

Was then.  Am now.

The shots of the planes hitting the buildings.  CNN had an angle.  NBC had another angle.  CBS had two angles.  The tragedy taking on the instructions of a shampoo bottle:  approach, impact, repeat.

The still images of Fr. Mychal Judge being carried from the rubble.  The somber face of FDNY Commissioner Thomas Van Essen, standing behind the podium shortly afterward, knowing not what the exact body count would be, but knowing it would be unfathomable.

The seemingly endless video streams of the towers collapsing, people running, diving and screaming for their lives, the haunting pulses of the FDNY's personal beacons.  It was all too much to understand, let alone constantly view or eventually accept.

The television reports of the funerals.  Twenty, 30, 40 a day it seemed.  Cruel stories of police pulling license plates from cars parked at commuter lots, whose drivers would never return.  A seemingly incessant stream of bagpipers playing "Rising of the Moon" or "Amazing Grace."  Haunting, yet, becoming all too familiar.

How the honor guard for the found fallen at the WTC site would hastily assemble.  Six or seven rescue workers would carry their comrade to the surface, covered in an American flag, as all around them put down their shovel to honor as he or she passed.
A few weeks after the 11th, I had to work a night football game in Jersey City, N.J.  After the game, I drove to an industrial park across the Hudson from lower Manhattan.  Guards were at the gate, but I asked them if I could drive to the edge of the park and just look over to the other side.

They were great.  They understood.  One guard rode with me, not because he didn't trust me - which at that time was quite noble and uncharacteristic - but because he wanted to go down there too.

He got out of the car, wished me well, waved, and walked away.  I sat still and sobbed. 

I cried inside.  I cried out.  I asked the single-word question that had been posed over and over that week:  Why?

The first seven days or so were absolutely numbing.  The next seven slightly better.  The next seven somewhat functional.  And so on and so forth.
A month or so later, ironically enough, I visited New York City for an escape.  A U2 concert.  Mind you, I'd seen three of their shows in June.  But this one was going to be different.

U2 had played shows throughout their career when terror struck their home in Ireland.  They had spoken out through song, when senseless killings made them ask, introspectively, how long must they sing those songs?

The return to Madison Square Garden for the band that sang their own brand of Irish rebel songs was for healing purposes, like so many of their country's troubadours before them.  When they came out for their encore…playing "One," it was like a prayer service. 

Then they dropped ceiling-to-floor screens at MSG and scrolled through the names of those who perished during the playing of "Walk On."

And as those names scrolled through that night in New York, in stops along the way in that leg of the tour, and finally at halftime of the Patriots first Super Bowl win, the message was clear:  Never Forget.
And now, 10 years later, those two words may define our generation.  Never Forget.

Never let your guard down.  Never take your liberties for granted.  Never take your loved ones for granted.  Never allow for complacency.  Never let this happen again.

The days will pass and we will mark the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the 15th anniversary, 20, 30, 50, and so on.  It will all, I'm sure, bring all of us back to that day.

Have I accepted that September 11, 2001 was the absolute life-altering moment in my life? 

Yes.  Perhaps finally, I have some idea.

(postscript:  Here's what my iPod gave me as the clock struck midnight.  I always trust in my iPod karma...)
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