There was a lot of talk today, really all week long and going back well into the summer, about the process and importance of remembering September 11th. I share and cherish this process, for while my life was not directly changed by that day it certainly cast a new light and meaning on a future that was already well in motion for me at the time. Serving in a wartime Marine Corps was a decidedly different and more fulfilling venture for me than the stateside alternative, and that worldview and those experiences and relationships are things that I will carry with me for a long time.
We all have different ways of remembering things, different rituals we follow. Each of us in our own way, for this anniversary and many others both positive and negative in light, takes a time apart to memorialize certain things in our past. A few days after 9/11, I found online an MP3 audio file that was a full recording of the Howard Stern show from that morning (WTC coverage starts around 2h10m). Odd, you might think, that this would be my choice. But for September 11th, that is what I listen to each year to mark that memory. Some years, just a few minutes are enough to do the trick, and other times I sit up late in the night listening for hours on end as the bright blue morning unfolds and ages into afternoon, a lifetime or more crammed into a few hours.
For me, what I want to remember is the uncertainty, the unknowing dimension of the early morning - as it unfolded - that can never be fully recaptured. Forever more, the news coverage or documentary or TV special on 9/11 will not develop separate from what eventually came to pass on that day. Listening to Stern and the rest of the crew of his live studio show learn of the first impact, and the second, listening to someone sent up to the roof with binoculars and a radio, relaying what they can see. Listening to fans call in, not to comment on the early dialogue of Pamela Anderson but each bringing weighty, if fragmented news. The speculation and insight and the unknown. Remarkably quickly, someone says terrorism, and war, and pegs it - certainly sooner that I remember making that same realization.
If you watch any news commentary of the day, even if it is the unedited audio of the very beginning, it is populated with video clips from the street and a variety of angles that did not come to light for days and weeks following. But in my memory at least, I was watching hours of live continuous coverage where nobody knew what the hell was going on, whether it was a big plane or small, intentional or accidental, 5000 or 50000 souls. Even flipping from one station to another, it was all the same camera angles, one or two at the most, mainly from across the river. I remember it taking 5 minutes just to figure out if the first tower had come down or not, because all we could see was smoke and dust. We just didn't know.
Listening to this tape of the Howard Stern show brings me back to the immediacy and the uncertainty of that morning, when everything was still news and nothing was editorialized. That's what I want to feel. I feel like almost everything else is post-production work.
And then, when I have had my fill of memories from that morning, what I really want to remember the most, beyond the smoke and fire and shock, was how America felt in the week that followed that terrible Tuesday. Like somewhere between Peal Harbor and V-J Day's ticker tape parade, all crammed into one outpouring of sympathy, humanity, patriotism, pride, vengeance, magnanimity and understanding. Flags on cars, on the street, on houses. People speaking to one another, strangers and neighbors and family, with a new measure of perspective and civility and a sense that, hey, we're all in this together and we're gonna have to be a team about it. And that was an America that I was insanely proud to be a part of, a country brought together, united through the character of the people that are her foundation and her purpose.