Remembering the 19th Anniversary of 9/11 in 2020

How a Pandemic points the lens on what strengthens us: Hope

None of us need anniversaries to remind us of what we cannot forget; nor bumper stickers, marathons, murals or museums. What’s on everyone’s mind every September, particularly in America, is the modern-age tragedy known as 9/11.

Recently I’ve received numerous social media shares and listened to commentary from acquaintances and podcasts, that after nineteen years, the tragedy of 9/11 is fading from the memories of Americans, we are forgetting. With the vast number of deaths resulting from COVID-19, the rising intensity of racial justice, and political vitriol, it may appear that the largest single-day mass tragedy in American history is fading beneath the shadows of these fire-breathing dragons. I do not believe this is true, and feel it inappropriate to compare any one tragedy or campaign to another. The grief still resonates deep in the memories of those old enough to have witnessed and close enough to have been directly impacted.

Although, my family and I are personally impacted by this loss, the events of that beautiful September day have changed our lives in ways that have cast an indelible impression in the way we all live our lives. There’s no question that this one single day has changed the nation forever. Many of our freedoms were stolen on that day from the fear and threat of terrorism and the government’s efforts to ramp up the safety of American citizens.

In what permanent ways has 9/11 changed our lives? Advances in social science took a leading role in developing new ways to detect, react to, and prevent further attacks. Shortly after the attacks, the National Institute of Justice funded the collation of terrorist activity data from 1970 to the present creating the Global Terrorist Database. On November, 11, 2001, the TSA changed airport security processes that impacted the casual freedoms of travel we once took for granted. The Homeland Security Act, passed November 25, 2002, established an organized effort of multiple government agencies to act as one entity to ensure the safety and security of our borders. The Total Information Awareness project was funded to aid government intelligence agencies to track the suspicious activities of individuals and groups across the globe.

9/11 has driven cutting edge DNA technology in the largest forensic investigation in history. 2,977 civilians from 115 nations were murdered in this simultaneous series of terrorist strikes. 1,609 people lost a spouse or partner, and an estimated 3,051 children lost a parent (The Encyclopedia of 9/11, Sep 2014, My children accounting for two in that number. 1,108 victims remain unidentified, the most recent victim being identified on July, 18, 2019. The cancerous, unbroken ripples continue to claim thousands of lives among rescue workers, survivors and residents.

Forty percent of World Trade Center victims’ remains have not yet been recovered or identified The Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York (OCME) continues their efforts to identify the remains resting within the basement of the OCME Repository at the 9/11 National Memorial Museum. I was fortunate, the positive identification of two of David’s bones was among some 1,200 victims who were positively identified by the first anniversary. Since I’ve declined notification of further identifications of fragments after internment in 2005, what remains is entombed with over 7,000 remnants of others behind a variegated blue subway-tile wall, designed to represent the color of the sky on the that fateful morning.  A quote by VIRGIL, mounted in steel, stretches across the expanse – “NO DAY SHALL ERASE YOU FROM THE MEMORY OF TIME.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat paralyzed, transfixed to the television airing the same drama unfolding on every station. My mood was one of disbelief, overwhelming anxiety, and hope, that one of the tens of thousands of people racing through the streets of lower Manhattan, spanning the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, were wearing L.L. Bean green khakis and a striped oxford shirt with my husband’s face of determination. I fell to the floor in horror at 9:59 as I witnessed Tower Two imploding in a dust cloud, screaming at the 32” glass box, “Run David, Run! You don’t have to be a hero, RUN!”The city was in utter chaos; camera crews were fleeing, Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer wept from their midtown news desks, choking for words, white dust ghosted individual identities. All were one, in two contrails stretching north and eastward from the lower Gotham precipice. Suddenly, Tower One quaked with a tremulous chill and collapsed into itself, in slow motion, as did my life. 

In what temporary and permanent ways have the coronavirus pandemic changed the ways in which we remember 9/11? This year, the victims will be remembered in numerous in-person and live-virtual gatherings, expanding opportunities for people to attend. My sons (now 23 and 27) and I will attend the ceremonies at the September 11th Memorial and Museum, which will be open only to family members, after a six-month COVID-19 hiatus. The color guard will march, the bells will toll, and in lieu of staged-readers, the voice recordings made by family members, which are usually heard in the hallowed halls of the museum, will resonate from loudspeakers throughout the glade. My voice, among them. Social distance mandates will be respected in the spacious outdoor Memorial space and with timed Museum tickets. Masks up.

What passed within me while witnessing passenger jets slice through buildings and plummet into a field, I can never forget. The plumes of black smoke heaving into the blue sky, from the tower my soulmate raced into for a morning meeting, to be incinerated and crushed into dust with thousands of others, I can never forget. Never can I forget that morning of my son’s first day of Kindergarten. Never can I forget the fervid faces of our fatherless little boys, whose toy helicopters unwound threads to rescue their daddy from the roofs of buildings constructed of interlocking bricks. Never can I forget the unselfish efforts of rescue and search teams, nor the kindness and charitable acts of local, national and global communities.

At the end of this story, the immediate shattering has ended: Bin Laden is dead, the footprints have been memorialized, the families have been compensated, the author has moved through the two decades of her narrative. But the continuous disquietude is interminable. The disquietude that will never subside; the disquietude imposed by memory that makes the line between joy and sorrow a narrow groove. Have previous pandemics resulted in an amnesia of Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, the fight for civil rights? Throughout all of history, ravages of wind, fire, water, and disease have surged through the contours of human battlegrounds. What I believe is that within the interfold of simultaneous human dissonance, there exists a universal sympathy. A sympathy woven so deep in the fabric of our collective substance, that long after the actual witnesses are gone, a collective hope threads through us, which only strengthens our resolve. We cannot ever forget.

© all rights reserved, Deborah Garcia 2020

2 Comments on “Remembering the 19th Anniversary of 9/11 in 2020”

  1. Hi Deborah, thank you for this exquisitely written piece. It’s so moving. My husband Martin Piecuch & I travelled with you and your new husband in Cuba, I think it was 2018. We’ve since returned 3X times to work in music & theatre. Would love to hear from you. Happy Birthday!

    • Hello Elizabeth! So lovely to hear from you. I cherish the memory of our acquaintance on the magical Cuban ALJO band tour, in 2016! Thank you for the birthday sentiment, for reading my work and taking the time to comment.

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