Every year on September 11th, I visit Tomato Nation and read what Sarah Bunting wrote about her September 11th experience. I still remember reading it the first time, when the pain of what had happened that day was so sharp. I read blog after blog after blog to hear people’s experiences, to try to understand. As if all these pieces of testimony would help me somehow piece together how it could have happened. Every year Sarah posts something new, some new reflection. But my favorite, the one that stays with me, the one I return to every year, is the one from 2004, three years in. This year, for my own three year anniversary on the 10th, it was particularly poignant. The last paragraph of her 2004 post one talks about how we will keep on remembering for as long as we can, keep on bearing witness, keep on being thankful. For as long as we can. Please do go and read it – it’s one of my favorite things online, and it moves me to tears every single time. (If you are interested, here are the other posts: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.)
For my own part, I thought that I was going to be okay this year. I cried when I was rereading Prisoner of Azkaban, the book that is the most focused on Harry’s relationship with his father. I cried when Dumbledore said that the dead we love never truly leave us. But I thought, you know, I am brave and strong. I am a professional. I will be able to hold it together this year. Two years, well, two years was such a short time. Of course I couldn’t hold it together after two years. But three? Surely I can manage it now. I made plans to go out with friends. I did everything I could to take care of myself, to prepare. I was ready to take the day back, to be the one with the power rather than letting the day have its hold on me.
And then I was pulled in a lot of directions and I didn’t get lunch until late and I had to duck into an office to cry. I went to my UNCG class after school and lost it in the middle because I just could not hold it together for one more minute. I called my friend and cancelled. I went home with my tail between my legs, feeling like a failure. I wanted to be in charge, to control how I feel. But I just couldn’t do it. I can’t do it.
There’s not an answer for that, really, except to trust that I do not actually have to hold it together. To believe that I can take this grief and these questions to God. To be quietly thankful for the people who remembered and reached out, even if I couldn’t bring myself to respond. Instead I read Psalm 121 and ate chicken fajitas. Mostly I was just sad. Because I miss him. Reading Sarah’s essay made me realize that I was doing it all wrong. It’s okay to mark the day. It’s okay to be sad. It’s part of remembering. And I want to keep on remembering for as long as I can. I will keep on being sad for as long as it’s necessary (which is, really, for as long as I can, because I will always know that he left us too soon). I will think of the days he convinced me to play hooky with him instead of going to school, of riding in the passenger seat of his van, of yelling at him as he tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift, of playing in the pool and playing in the snow. I will remember how hard he worked for our family, how he would take off his glasses when he wanted to see something up close, how he would tell such corny jokes. I will be thankful for all that we still have: my brother, who makes me laugh; my mom, who always listens; Mike, who lets me cry. I will try to do what is right because that is what my dad taught me. And because it is a way to remember, to keep him close.
Thanks to everyone who thought about me on Thursday.