While reading the September 11, 2001, September 11, 2001 - II and September 11, 2001 - III daylogs, the memories came flooding back of their own volition. The horror of seeing panicked innocents jumping from a 110 story building because it's better than being burned alive. The horror imagining what it was like to be passengers in aircraft being used as flying bombs, watching the ground rush closer, closer, closer, fellow passengers screaming frantic prayers to deaf gods and offering mental messages to loved ones in those final few secon...
And then nothing.
Everybody remembers where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001. The surreal nature of life that day. Tears flowing down cheeks unbidden and unchecked.
Hatred? There was none that day. That didn't happen until later. On Sept. 11, it was only a mass national grief for the dead.
The United States telephone system had its busiest day in history that day. Of course it did. Each of us called our loved ones. The most stoic of us said in cracking voices how much we loved them, no matter where they were.
My cousins in Europe called me. Christl, the former communist and most virulently anti-American, emailed and called, "Are you all right?" I live and work close to the Pentagon, close to CIA headquarters, close to Ground Zero. Astrid from Germany called. Irene and Ingrid and even Emil Jr. let me know how much they thought about us. My aunts and uncles who were still alive, who survived World War II, had flashbacks of their own to a time when the whole world was a conflagration, and they remembered, oh yes, they remembered.
In the very next sentence they would always say how much they grieved for the United States. The nations of the world were aggrieved for us in a way we'd never seen before. France. Canada. Sweden. Even Switzerland. Such national outpourings of affection and sorrow we may never see again.
My daughter looked up that day, a freshman at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, while she was out for her physical fitness run, and saw an airplane streaking across the sky flying lower than she'd ever remembered. The sound of the impact, moments later, as it crashed into the Pentagon, and even later, the cloud of smoke.
I walked to a window of my building, the top floor of one of the highest buildings in the northern Virginia area, and looked down to see the Pentagon on fire.
The drive home was like a movie of the Apocalypse. Everyone drove slowly. People were polite. There was virtually no traffic by the time I left to go home. We were all watching television, too stunned to eat or make dinner or do anything except hold our loved ones.
That night, and for many evenings in the Washington DC area, our skies were streaked with the contrails of angry jets. The roar shook our houses. Military helicopters, with the characteristic WHUP WHUP WHUP noise their bladetips make, criss cross the skies between the White House, the various intelligence agencies, and national miitary command centers. Our house is under the path of one of those routes.
Since then I have familiarized myself with the teachings of Islam. I was one of the many who read the Qu'ran for the first time, and became acquainted with both its beauty and malevolence, flowing seamlessly between sentences like a mixture of gasoline and water. I began reading the histories of Islam, especially how it favored and then dismissed technology and the enlightenment that came from Western Europe's Renaissance. It puzzled me, how this religion seemed to be so stuck in feudal times. It puzzles me still. I have concluded that religion and human progress do not mix. Perhaps I am wrong about this. Time will tell.
The echoes of that far off time, that day that seems so paradoxically close by and yet so far distant, they reverberate throughout our world like the relics of the Big Bang did throughout the universe. We know something important happened that day. Now we are fragmented in our theories as to the meaning of those events. We want to make sure we tell our children and our grandchidren the central lessons we'd learned four years ago. We don't all agree on what those lessons are.
Roses and weeds grow out of the same dirt. Hatred and love arise out of the ashes of our memories. Hatred and love. But the greatest of these is love.