Saturday, September 11, 2010
My Grandma used to tell me of her memories of December 7th, 1941. Perhaps I will share her story here in December. My father used to share his story of November 22, 1963 (Assassination of John F. Kennedy).
Myself I have detailed flashbulb memories of December 8, 1980 (Murder of John Lennon)... January 28, 1986 (Space Shuttle Challenger disaster)... April 19, 1995 (Oklahoma City bombing)... and September 11, 2001.
On September 11, 2001 I recall the details burned into my memory; Where I was, What I was doing, Who I first heard the news from, How it affected me.
Where... In the cafeteria at our facility in Northbrook, Illinois.
What... Ordering an omelet for breakfast. With cheese and onions of course.
Who... Her name I did not know even though I had encountered her a hundred times before. Most did not care for her much as she had one of those annoying personalities. She was just the 'cafeteria lady' to many us. She came out from the backroom to the griddle and I was ready to blurt out my order so as to squash any attempt at small talk she might offer. But as she so often did she spoke over me. However instead of asking me how my weekend was, or suggesting I try the special, she asked me if I had heard about the airplane.
No, I told her No I had not, and honestly I didn't want her to tell me about airplanes or anything. But since she was in control of my food, I had to stand there & wait. She went on to tell me that a plane had flown into a building in New York. She didn't know anything more than that so she filled the time while my omelet cooked by asking me questions like, 'isn't that scary?', and, 'what kind of plane do you think it was?'... Getting an idea why she was considered annoying?
Food in hand I walked back to my cubical. Halfway through the walk something felt odd. Nobody was talking, nobody was huddled for the usual morning chats over coffee. It was dead silent. My cubical neighbors were glued to their pc monitors when I got back. Tom was trying to dial in his clock radio to a station, we never listened to it; it was there for time telling only.
Naturally I asked Tom & Dan what was up and they told me that a plane had flown into the world trade center. I joined them in trying to get the internet to give us details, but most news sites were pitifully slow do to the massive surge in traffic. Shortly we recalled that one of the conference rooms had a television and away we went. The rest of our work day was spent in there watching the tragedy unfold.
By around 3 p.m. I had enough. Time to go home and figure out how to explain this day to the kids.
How... I was pissed off, that is how I was affected. I was also frustrated, confused, anxious, embarrassed, hostile, worried, proud, to name a few other emotions I wrestled with. Like most Americans I was a twisted wreck of emotions for sometime after the attacks.
If I had to note just one change in me which I can attribute to 9/11 it would be a respect for names. In the weeks following the attacks we sat anxiously as the death toll was tabulated, victims were identified, heroes arose from the horror; they all had names. I found myself very interested in hearing their names, reading their names; not just lumping them all together in numbers, or counts. Respect, they deserved the respect of being remembered by name. A list of names of the victims from Sept. 11, 2001 can be found here.
Pre 9/11 if we were introduced I may not have committed your name to memory unless we were going to spend meaningful time together. If we were just casual acquaintances and we passed each other in the office complex hallways not only was it likely I had forgotten your name but I wouldn't have offered a courteous hello, or good morning, as we passed. I didn't have enough respect for your name to do so.
A couple of months after 9/11 it dawned on me that that respect, the respect of a persons name, should be given to everyone I meet. I work in an office complex where 1,700 people spend their days earning their keep. Hundreds others visit us daily in the form of vendors, consultants, etc.. Today when I am introduced to anyone, I commit their name to memory, I shake their hand even if I have to walk all the way around to the opposite end of one of our ridiculous 50 foot-long conference tables (exercise opportunity, right), and I respectfully say their name in my greeting to them, e.g. Good Morning Craig, Nice to meet you Jennifer, etc.
Post 9/11 if we pass each other no matter how casually were are acquainted, I acknowledge you and I do it by name. That may sound corny, or less than noteworthy. But a respect for names is what 9/11 changed profoundly in me.
Oh before I close here, the cafeteria ladies name is LENA LEVINSON.
Never Forget, Never!
Responsibility 199 - Gotta Do It!!