Sunday, September 11, 2011

How 9-11-01 Influenced Me and AS THE WORLD DIES

I wasn't going to write anything about 9-11 today.  The last ten years since the fall of the two towers has had a devastating toll on this country.  As the recaps on the news of that terrible day play out, I'm not watching.  I don't want to see people dying again. I saw that ten years ago, and I will never forget the footage of people jumping from the towers, or the planes crashing.  Those images are forever burned in my mind.

Thankfully, so are the images of firefighters rushing into the doomed buildings to save the lives of complete strangers, or of shopkeepers handing out water and food to people covered in ash trudging out of Manhattan.  I read an article just today that reminded me of just how amazing the people in the armed forces are and how proud of them I am.  It was the noble heart of ordinary people who did extraordinary acts of heroism beyond the call of duty, or were willing to give their lives to save others (Flight 93) that I feel is the true legacy of 9-11.  Never have I felt more proud to not only be American, but human.  In the face of terrible evil, good stood its ground and stared it down.

My own 9-11 experience has had a huge impact on my life.  I was home sick from work with the flue. At the time I was living with my mother as she underwent treatment for a medical ailment.  I was asleep in my room when the door opened and my mother cried out, "America is under attack!  They've already hit New York and Washington D.C.!"  She vanished from the doorway, hurrying back to the TV in the living room.

Sitting up groggily, holding my swimming head, I sat in shock.  As a child of the Cold War and the 80's, I instantly believed that we were under nuclear attack.  I felt completely numb and overwhelmed with my impending death.  I mentally calculated how far we were from San Antonio and Austin and realized we would probably have just a few minutes after the bombs dropped to live.  I thought of my brother in San Antonio, so close, but so far away in that moment, and of my other brothers and their family further away.  I remember thinking that maybe they had a chance to survive.  My legs could barely carry me to the living room where I collapsed onto the sofa and wondered how long I had to live.  I wondered how much it would hurt.

Then I looked at the TV.

To this day, I feel guilt over the immense relief that flowed over me when I saw the plane flying into the second tower.  Suddenly, I wasn't facing the end of not only my life, but the world, but a much different crisis altogether.  One that neither I, nor anyone else could have ever imagined.   I burst into tears as a mixture of horror and relief flooded through me.

A month later, I stood at Ground Zero with a dear friend of mine, the air full of ash, the sound of the machinery the only real sound in the muted, empty space where the two towers once stood.  I had been in NYC a few weeks before the attack and returning was both frightening, but important.  The subway trip to the stop that would leave us off near the place where the towers once loomed was quiet.  It felt like a funeral procession and I wasn't surprised when nearly every person on the subway exited and trekked toward Ground Zero.

It was the strange silence that affected me most that day.  Despite the whispered conversations around me, the sounds of the city in the distance, and the machinery at work, there was a stillness and quiet that was disconcerting.  It felt as if a wound had been torn into the fabric of the world so violently, that it had yet to recover.  Where the two towers had stood,it felt like there was a void.  I wiped my eyes on my gloves that were flecked with ash and knew I was on sacred ground.  Later,  we walked away from the place of so much death and sorrow and reentered a world that was full of life, sound, and color.

Years later, when I wrote AS THE WORLD DIES, I drew on my personal experiences of 9-11.  The fear I felt when I thought I was about to be vaporized in a nuclear strike and my conflicting emotions after I found out the reality of the attack would become the foundation I would build upon for individual characters.  The goodness and heroics of common people on a terrible day also infused the characters of the fort.  My visit to Ground Zero, where I stood in the grey solemnity of a terrible disaster, then returned to the land of the living, became the basis for the fort's inhabitants determination to continue on.

9-11 has had a profound affect on everyone.  Ten years later, all of us are living in a world shaped by that terrible day.  No one has gone unscathed from that horrific terrorist attack.  We have all done our best to move on from the tragedy and rebuild.  Of course, some have had a much worse time of it than others.  My heart weeps for them.

In the end, it is what we do in the aftermath of tragedy that determines the people we are.  Do we rise above?  Or fall?

In my own personal life, I have tried to enjoy my life and appreciate those around me.  I have also pulled upon my personal recollections to help shape an imaginary world where common people have to overcome extraordinary loss.

May we never forget the goodness and heroism of the people of 9-11.

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