Tempted to Leave This Blank

Posted by mwallach on September 11, 2011 in New Yorkers |

Dear That’s Life,
For the week surrounding my birthday, I am usually in full celebration mode. Birthday wishes are accepted for many days before and after the actual date, and while alternate side is not suspended, I do think it could be. As can be imagined, I have no shame about using my special day for discounts, free desserts or being moved to the head of the line at Disney World. After all, they are all perks that come with being the Birthday Girl.

This year, however, I have cancelled the parade, though I am not protesting anything, nor am I depressed. This is not a “milestone year” which would send me into a funk and I am not in denial that I am getting older. And yet, I do not feel like celebrating nor do I feel like being funny. Although I have many stories to share, and this has been an interesting week, I cannot help but choose to save them for another time. There is a much more significant date to remember this year and as the anniversary gets closer, I prefer to reflect rather than party.

Ten years ago this week, I was starting a new job about which I was really excited. My children were entering new stages of life, one starting nursery, the other beginning to crawl, and the weather was simply idyllic. The morning of September 11th, I had walked my girls to school, not a cloud in the sky and not a care in the world. Life, as I knew it, could not get any better than that moment.

I will always remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news. I am pretty confident that the person who told me has no idea that she is part of that memory. As I reflect on that moment in time, however, she is inextricably linked to that fateful morning. I walked home, surrounded by an eerie feeling that I needed to get home quickly, that being outside was not safe. It made no sense – it was a beautiful day. And yet my husband breathed a sigh of relief as he saw us, as if we had weathered an incredible storm with only the shirts on our backs, afraid we would never be reunited. Upon entering our home, we quickly sat down to watch what would be the footage that would forever alter, shape and connect American lives.

Each year since it happened, I have felt an overwhelming responsibility to the students in my classroom, desperately needing to help them remember appropriately, refusing to allow the day to become trivial or meaningless, as have so many other things. In the past, my students have needed to memorialize the day as a way to cope with their own memories, looking back as to how afraid they were, how we gathered in the lunchroom, how school was cancelled the next day. As we get further away from the actual day, however, the students who walk into my room no longer have their own stories as to where they were when they heard. The anecdotes they share are not theirs – they belong to their parents or an older sibling. It is not a criticism, but rather a reality, and as I walk into my classroom this Monday, I will be charged with an even greater responsibility than in previous years – memorializing a day for people who do not remember it at all.

People often ask me how long it takes me to write this column. I respond that it depends on the week and that is the truth, although no submission since the start of the Standard has taken as long as this one to complete. I was conflicted as to how to handle this week’s entry in light of the anniversary, convinced many read this column for a lighthearted moment or a good, much needed, laugh. I conferred with my editor, who confirmed that others were also writing about 9/11 and encouraged me to go with my gut. My instinct was to take the week off from humor, simply because I did not have the chutzpah to trivialize the past ten years by writing something irrelevant, almost pretending it did not happen. Leaving these column inches completely blank, I decided, would have even been better, more appropriate and respectful, than writing about something else.

In the days before Irene hit our area, preparations became more frenzied than precautionary. Many of us got carried away, though there is wisdom in “better safe than sorry”. Upon hearing the extent of our purchases, a friend asked me if I knew why we were all over-preparing, though I had not even considered the “why” behind the madness. “Because you can,” he explained. “How many historical disasters would have been completely different had people been given a three day warning that this was going to happen – and they needed to be ready?” He was right. In the case of 9/11, however, preparedness would not have been about buying canned goods or filling bathtubs with water. It would simply have been about staying home.

I have nothing profound to say, no words of wisdom to share, that have not already been said by numerous other people. I simply hope that my reflections and honesty respectfully honor those who lost their lives, the families who still grieve and the first responders who risked everything when they heard the call. And this Sunday, as I reflect on my last ten years, I will count every blessing, hug each of my children and thank G-d for my days on this earth. That, too, is a testament to their memories and may their memories be blessed.
As seen in the South Shore Standard 9/9

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