After nearly 4 years of living in Manhattan, I had moved back to Los Angeles a couple of years before September 11, 2001. My father was deep into Alzheimer’s and I wanted to be near him. It was just past dawn when I woke up and saw the first images on my computer…then the horror unfolding on television. I tried calling friends in New York and couldn’t get through — not on land lines and not on cell phones. I felt suddenly guilty for having left the city for the west coast, even though that feeling made no sense. But nothing made sense that day.
It doesn’t feel like 15 years have passed. The day is still sharp, unfaded by time. As I drove to my parents’ house, I saw a man in ragged clothes, presumably homeless, standing by the road waving a large American flag as torn and ragged as his clothes. Where did he get it? I wondered. As I passed him I saw that he was weeping.
I stood at my father’s bedside and told him something terrible had happened in our country, something no one ever could have imagined. I told him people missed him right then — somehow he would know what to say to us. We were grieving so painfully. Tears I couldn’t hold back dropped onto his bedsheet. I had a firm pledge to never cry around my father — people with Alzheimer’s pick up on emotions but don’t have the capacity to understand the reasons for them, so I never wanted to upset him. But on this day I couldn’t help it. His blue eyes watched me and I will always believe that in a place far beyond the disease, deep inside his soul, he understood everything I was saying.
Finally, that night, I reached a friend who worked in Manhattan but lived in Connecticut. Her home phone was working. She had arrived at work — downtown, in full view of the towers — and saw people falling past her windows. She said she will never, for the rest of her life, forget those images.
The best we can do now is remember, and treat this day with reverence. I hope that 15 years from now it is still a day for reflection, and memories, and grief. We lost so much on that bright blue morning. None of us will ever be the same as we were when we woke up that day, before the flames and the nightmare that seemed both unreal and terrifyingly inescapable. The thousands of people who died that day deserve a permanent place in our prayers, and a day of reverence for the lives they should have been able to complete. Those whose loved ones vanished in the smoke and ash and flames need to know that this day will always be set aside for solemn reflection, for quiet moments, and for tears.