Waiting Patiently for My Annual Day of Stillness to End

My mom’s generation had “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” My generation has “Where were you on 9/11?” Since this blog wasn’t around last year at this time, restating my own anecdote for the record — probably just this once — might be prudent.

That day, I was at work sorting daily reports when someone cranked the volume on our quiet morning up to 12. Three hours into my shift, we were all panic and no work. This, plus the fact that I work in one of the tallest buildings in the city, was reason enough for our superiors to let us take the rest of the day off, just in case every American building over ten stories tall had been targeted for destruction. Fortunately nothing happened during the next hour that I spent gridlocked in the employee parking lot, waiting my turn to head for the hills.

Once I escaped and finally arrived home, I turned on the TV news, of which I normally watch an average of thirty minutes per year. With the TV feed kept on in the background to provide a steady stream of information, misinformation, endless speculation, live interviews with the shell-shocked, and endless repeats of all of the above, I served in the best way I possibly could at that particular moment: I spent the entire rest of the day and all of the evening online, talking to anyone who needed someone to talk to, sifting for incoming details faster than TV reporters could communicate them, and monitoring the myriad reactions at the geek message board for which I was a volunteer moderator at the time. As crowd-control jobs go, Internet moderating is less about physical stress, far more about emotional stress during times of unprecedented national trauma. Whether the members needed comfort, sought to make sense of anything, wanted to share updates as they occurred, felt like practicing their rhetorical bluster, or thought this was the perfect time for inappropriate jokes (way, way too soon — thank you so much, insensitive cool-kids), I stuck around to do my part as needed, however minuscule it was in the Grand Scheme.

While others suffered, while still others rose above to do their part in response, I was at home joining and sorting the chorus of those whose first response was to register their horror on the Internet for all to see. Hours passed while I kept waiting for a few moments of calm that might allow me to excuse myself from the fray, long after fatigue set in. The existing records confirm I was online till well after midnight. I broke a personal record for simultaneous IM chats, having carried on six such conversations at one time while still tending to the board. That was my day. Poor, put-upon, still-breathing me, having to type and type and type for the sake of others while buildings crumbled and societal paradigms quaked.

Every 9/11 since then, I’ve spent doing the opposite of that.

Every 9/11, I keep my online communications to a bare minimum. No grand pronouncements, no attempts at punditry, no prolonged conversations, no PhotoShop tributes, and very few laughs. A combination of throwing myself into my work, spending time with loved ones, consoling my coworker whose birthday is 9/11, and offline prayer is usually activity enough to hold me until the clock rolls over to 9/12, the anniversary of not much in particular.

It’s my way of deferring to those who treat the day with utmost, outspoken reverence. It’s my way of avoiding those who tire of the reverence and insist on bleating about their impatience. It’s my way of observing the truth to be had in Psalm 37:7.

It’s also my way of commemorating the Way Things Used to Be, noting The Way Things Have Been Ever Since, and dearly wishing they were the opposite of that.

2 responses

  1. Randall, this is a touching post.
    Of course for me, like most people, yesterday was one of remembrance. I walked passed an elementary school. Flags at half staff, kids playing on a soccer field, knowing that I was witnessing something important in the here and now, a single moment in time. These years later since that fateful morning, the same emotion rolls through, a strong undercurrent still too close to the surface. I doubt it will ever be any different in my lifetime.
    For some reason my thoughts drifted to D Day and how it was once that “moment in time” for a generation. My mind shifted to how personal heartbreaks, when viewed as a collection, somehow define us as a people. Each generation since the beginning of recorded history has this in common.
    In a couple of weeks, I’m going to Italy. On the trip I plan to visit Pompeii and see for myself the remains of an ancient tragic event that stopped life in its tracks. I wonder if I will come away with a sense of wonder for how the terror of a natural disaster can effect us so differently than one, just as deliberately perpetrated, so willingly violent and yet in tragic contrast to the greatness of our human nature.


    • I can only imagine what Pompeii must be like. Last year we visited the temporary memorials to both 9/11 in Manhattan and United 93 in central PA. More disquieting to us, in a way, was the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, which (as of 2005) included a reflecting pool and one chair for each of the departed. Something about the unusual, creative approach to it made for a somber resonance that wasn’t easy to forget just by walking away.


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