Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scarred, But Healing

(source unknown)

Ten years ago today I was sitting in my house when the phone rang.  It was a day like any other, a crisp clear September day, the day after my father in law's birthday.  I was following my daily routine, which consisted of driving kids to the bus stop, vacuuming, and throwing in a load of laundry after taking our dog out.

When the phone rang, I had just gotten out of the shower, ready to go run errands.  The voice on the other end of the phone sounded panicked, it was the secretary at my son's elementary school.  She asked what was going on, and I was confused and frightened that something had happened to my son.  Realizing I was clueless, she asked if I had seen the news, and I told her that I hadn't even turned on the TV that morning, I rarely had it on during the day.

She told me that a plane had struck one of the twin towers in NYC and for me to turn on the news, and that she had called me because she thought I would have some sort of insider info because of Mr. Tide's profession.  I told her I hadn't spoken to him that morning but I would go watch TV and let her know if I heard anything about what was happening.

I had barely hung up when my friend and neighbor phoned me, she too sounded nervous and suggested I go pick my children up from school immediately, and she asked me to get her daughter if I got there before she did.  Her husband is a local police officer and she's not one to panic, so when she said I should go, I didn't hesitate for a moment.  By this time, I had seen what was unfolding on television and I grabbed my purse and rushed to school to get my son, since his school was the closest.

I then left to pick my daughter up at the high school, and by this time the radio was inundated with the events unfolding that morning.  When I reached the lobby of the school there were people gathered in utter disbelief, all rushing to grab their children.  A friend was there picking up her son and daughter and when I hugged her she just looked at me and said, "I was supposed to be there!"  She had a meeting that morning at the Pentagon but had not gone to work that day.  As we counted our blessings, more people wandered around with blank faces, especially the children knowing that some of their parents were in the Pentagon that morning.

When I got home, I finally got a hold of Mr. Tide, or maybe he got a hold of me, the phone lines were jammed and no calls were getting out of DC.  He explained that he would be heading to the Pentagon, but that he would need to come home to get some things first.  He rode home with a friend, since he had carpooled in that morning.  When he got home late that night, I was never so happy to see someone in my whole life.  But he would leave the following morning to go to work while the rest of us tried to make sense of the tragedy, he would be there in the thick of things trying to make sense of the wreckage, in the most literal sense of the word.

When he had time he would call, and tell me about how wonderful the Red Cross or the many restaurants were treating them, so that they could focus on the task at hand.  As the days passed, he said the hardest part was mealtime, when they would pass around the letters written by school children thanking them for what they were doing.  It brought it all home, that this wasn't just a job, this was the investigation of lives lost.  People who were here one moment and gone the next.

That first evening my friend and I organized a candlelight vigil in our little cul-de-sac, and one of our neighbors told us how her dad had been right there in NYC and was one of those who barely escaped and had walked home after the towers fell.  It was like that everywhere you went, no one was left untouched.  At one of my favorite country stores, the owner's brother hadn't been so lucky and perished at the Pentagon.  One of my best friends called from California to say that her cousin was on the flight from Boston that hit the towers.  Even months after that day I was chatting with a woman in the parking lot of the grocery store and she told me how her husband had died at the Pentagon, you could see that her heart had a hole in it that could never be repaired.  Yet there she was, grocery shopping, I wondered if I could be so brave?!

When my son left this morning in his dress uniform to represent his Fire and Rescue company in a ceremony, it was all I could to to not cry.  How many wives, mothers, sisters, children watched as their loved ones left to go to work, a job they loved or maybe hated, never to return home.  And I wondered how they felt today.  As some of you know, I play an online game called Call of Duty, and one of the people Mr. Tide and I game with is a member of the FDNY.  I wondered what today must be like for him, and how they cope with the magnitude of loss suffered by agencies like his and the police departments of NYC?

We have a framed print, a shadow box of sorts, in our house with two pictures (one is the same photo pictured above), a patch, and a letter to Mr. Tide which reads in part..."I know that your hard work and dedication to service were critical to helping our Nation heal and rebuild.  Your skills, talents and expertise were required and you were there."  It goes on to say, "From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your unselfish service to the country, and thank you for all that you do every day to keep our Nation safe."

Today, ten years later, I asked my husband what this day means to him, whether it brings back all of those memories?  He simply said that he relives that day over again in his mind, the sights, the smells, the sounds.  He knows that his colleagues who worked the NYC scenes had it much worse, but those scars will be with him forever.  Scars, that until today, I never really realized their depth.

And yet there is healing, it didn't jade him, or make him hate, it made him find greater love, appreciation, and compassion for the life he has.  He "chose" to rise above the hatred of some, and to continue to do what he does best, keeping us safe.  He will never forget, he can never erase, and he knows that, but he has healed.  His example has inspired both our children who share that same strength and compassion.

Today, and each day I wish for those affected by this tragedy, that they will find peace, comfort, strength, and the ability to love again.  To not let the misguided beliefs of a few rule the way they live their lives.  As my friend Mac, also a first responder and gaming friend, likes to say "A hero in life, not in death."  I hope that today, those who lost loved ones will celebrate the true heroes their loved ones were in life.

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