In a way, it's incredible to think that it has been an entire decade since the Tuesday morning we all remember and now just call "Nine Eleven", and yet at times it seems as though it's been merely a heartbeat since we were all frozen in time, a nation, watching in horror as the unfathomable happened.
It was my first experience of sharing a tragedy with the world in such a way that marks, like a ring in a tree trunk, the passage of a specific moment in time. My first "I remember where I was when..." moment. It was the first week of classes my freshman year at the University of Michigan. It was Tuesday morning, and I had ballet with Judy Rice, and a bunch of dance majors who either had spent time in NYC, or were from there, or had friends and family there. I remember thinking I wanted to get there early and get my space at the barre established, because once you stand in a certain space, it tends to be "yours" for the duration of class. So, there I was in the basement of the dance building, all by myself, watching the clock as it ticked closer and closer to class time, without any other dancers coming down. I started to get nervous that I was in the wrong studio, or had the class time all wrong, or maybe it wasn't even Tuesday and I was really supposed to be in French class or something! So I ventured back upstairs to see if I could find someone to check for me, and there were all these dancers in leotards and tights and legwarmers, bunched in the hallway around our instructor's office door, shoes and dance bags and water bottles left all along the hall. I crept closer and heard Judy tearfully saying "the plane...the plane crashed. Now, it's gone." She had a small TV in her office, and it took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. I thought that she must have had a relative on a flight that had crashed somewhere, and my heart instantly lurched for her thinking of her loss. Then, looking at the television, I realized that she meant one of the towers of the World Trade Center was gone. It had just collapsed moments before I walked up. As we watched and wondered what was happening, the second tower came down in front of our eyes.
I began shaking, and it dawned on me that what I was watching as "footage" meant something very different for many of the people around me, who had loved ones in downtown Manhattan. Judy cancelled our class for the day, and later that morning all classes at UofM would be cancelled for the first time in many years. I walked out of the dance building into a sunny September day, and immediately tried to reach my mom, but it took a few tries as all of the cell phone towers were overrun with people all trying to do the same thing. I went up to my dorm room and turned on the TV, and watched, over and over and over, those planes crashing into the towers, those giant, solid structures crumbling down like a child's block set. I couldn't peel my eyes away from that screen for hours, and I felt numb thinking of the magnitude of the losses. Already feeling homesick and a bit stranded as a freshman who had so recently packed up and bravely moved out in the world on my own, I suddenly felt an overwhelming need to be home, with my family. My mom came to get me that evening, and I spent the afternoon hours with my roommate and other girls in the dorm, watching, crying, worrying about friends who knew someone there. We watched at home that night, too, until we all had to turn away from those images and turn to each other and just hold on.
A decade. 10 years. Nearly a third of my lifetime has passed since that day, and yet the memory of those moments is as fresh and real as if it were today, an oddly symmetrical, perfectly sunny and mild September day. But something has changed. I'm a mother. The thought of experiencing that day as a parent makes my stomach flip-flop. The thought of something happening to one of us and not coming home to each other. Not being here to see our baby grow up together. That feels entirely and wholly different than the emotions I felt as an 18 year old college freshman. And I want to someday be able to share with Norah the power of the emotions I feel at this anniversary, and to someday tell her about that day and what it meant for our nation. But I also want to protect her, to shield her from the imagery and awfulness that was that day. I want to teach her about the amazing men and women who rushed in to save others, teach her to be as kind and thoughtful of a person. What will I tell her? I don't know yet how to navigate those waters of parenthood, but what I know today is that I can love her, hold her close to me and breathe her in. I can live every day with her in my life as fully and with as much love as I have. And that will have to be enough. For now.
Remembering those whose lives were lost, and those whose lives were changed forever that day.