Sep 9, 2011

I'm Not Special

I've known for a while now that I would have to write this post, but I have been prolonging it as much as possible. Why? Apart from the obvious subject, it has stemmed from a recent conversation that made me feel like a completely selfish and ignorant twat.

I will be flying this Sunday, September 11th, 2011.

I was sharing this fact with a friend of mine, expressing my reservations and anxieties about how I will be travelling on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I then continued to explain how I was at College when "it" happened and how they evacuated the school because it was so close to the Toronto Airport. Going home, stuck in 12 lanes of stopped traffic and realizing I was utterly helpless in that situation if anything were to happen; my heart was racing and I was crying.

Was this the beginning of World War III?
Will we all die today?
Is this the beginning of the end?

My friend was quiet while I was going off on a tangent. Then, he replied:
I was there.
I sucked that crap into my lungs.
I pulled injured people out from under metal buildings.
I pulled on someone's arm to help them out of rubble only to realize that it was just an arm without a body.
I gave water to fire fighters.
I was supposed to be in Tower 1 but I was late and stuck in traffic.
I went to 16 funerals.


I didn't know. If I did, I would never have opened my damn mouth. All of a sudden, I felt fucking ridiculous and all I had thought and my entire perception of that day, on that day, and for every day since, was nothing but selfish panic.

I'm not special.

Everyone panicked. From the wise words of Agent Kay, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals."
And yet, we were 500 miles away, in another country. Safe.

There was a news segment on television last night that featured a young woman. She is going to make the trip to Ground Zero this weekend because of how it "profoundly affected her life". She was 16 when it happened... in a Canadian high school. She had no relation to anyone that lost their life that day, but still... profound nevertheless. The segment had a talk-track on top of scenes of her looking sad, pondering off into the distance. The footage was enhanced with a cheesy glow for heightened dramatics. I think a lot of people confuse the phrase 'profoundly affected' with the word 'fascination', including this woman, and that television station.

Maybe I'm just being a bitch, but I found it hard to stomach her... ahem... story. Was I meant to feel sympathy for this woman? And if so, why? I wasn't sure. I would like to see her tell her "story" to my friend and see how news-worthy he thinks it is. If I were him, I'd want to slap her. Yesterday must have been a slow news day, seriously.

I know that people often tend to gravitate to huge tragedies and events and when possible, become a part of them, even if it's via 3-times removed someone-knowing-someone who's relative's neighbor that died.
Where were you when JFK died?

But enough is enough.

After having written these words, I don't think I will ever attempt to gain shared sympathy from anyone about how I felt on 9/11. How I felt is now (and has always been) irrelevant, apart from expressing that I was very, very lucky that I wasn't there. I pray that no one I know and/or love will ever have to experience something like that in their lifetime.

So, I will be flying to the United States on September 11, 2011. And coincidentally, two other immediate family members of mine will be flying in from Europe on the same day. Am I nervous? A little bit. (OK, maybe a lot.) But I don't think there will be a single person, flying or not, that won't be thinking about all the lives that were lost and families that were torn apart forever on that day. Whether directly or indirectly, it affected the entire world.

I'm not special.


  1. Your friend, the one who was there? Tell him I said hi and that HE is special. For being there and for helping and for not feeling sorry for himself.

    And you? Have a safe trip, sassy lady. And I mean it.

  2. This really has me thinking. And feeling. I really like how you tell this. And I think I'd feel similarly about that lady who was "profoundly affected". So glad I stopped by today.

  3. This is incredibly thought provoking Lady E. There are so many words in my head but getting them down is so hard.

    I can't even begin to imagine how it was for those directly involved but I don't think there can be a single person who didn't feel the shock and horror of that day.

    Profoundly affected? Well, yes, I think we all were in different ways but to use it for self promotion in the way this lady is? That's an insult to anyone who was really there or who lost loved ones.

  4. There's no doubt that this event affected everyone, near and far in some way. But I have to agree that I too want to slap that woman who was featured on the news.
    I was lucky, I had many friends who lived and worked in NYC at that time, and thankfully all of them were ok.
    One of those friends was also at ground zero trying to help. And like your friend, he saw some truly horrible things that I won't repeat, also breathed in that shit in the air and got very sick from it in the weeks that followed. Ultimately he got better, but he was incredibly traumatized by it all - nightmares, panic attacks.
    THAT is what constitutes 'proufoundly affected'.

  5. I'm flying to the States on the 18th and this has definitely been on my mind. Thinking of the families with their terrible memories and worrying for myself and the safety of my flight. Thanks for sharing this post - and have a safe flight.

  6. Thanks!! I'm so glad you have got the point I was trying to get across. I was worried.


    YES, He is very special.

  7. Too true. For those whose lives were directly touched by 9/11, I think everything else became pale in relevance and comparison. It was a tragedy, and unfortunately, sometimes it takes tragedies to put our thoughts into perspective.

    Here's wishing you a smooth and safe flight. I totally understand how unnerving it must be to fly on that day. Heck, every time I went through those x-rays and body check in airports, I got reminded by that horrible event.

  8. Fuck.
    I really believe this is the best post I will ever read. I can't even think of how to express just how right your words are.

    AOL, YAHOO, MSN---they need to pick this up as one of their little headline blurbs. Put 9/11 into perspective for those that think it affected them "profoundly" from a TV channel 800 miles away.

  9. Maybe you are not special but you certainly are not alone. My sister is a flight attendant and has to work this Sunday so I will be thinking of her, and you, and everyone else that has to fly, and of course everyone that was lost/injured and effected by that day 10 years ago.

  10. 9/11 is probably one of the safest days to fly now-a-days. It's insane what some people had to go through that day. We can only remember where we were when we heard/saw. It's not selfish at all.

  11. Right on, Lady. I feel you.

    I don't feel like I have any right to say how it affected me. I was safe, at home, asleep. Yes, I was slightly traumatized, yes I cried, but come on... I have friends who's husbands were late for a meeting in the towers and watched it happen--then walked home to Long Island...friends who saw people jumping...friends who took a few of the famous photos...relatives who work for NYFD... I can't say shit.

    Good luck on your flight.You'll be okay. Cheers.

  12. It truly was a moment that stopped time for anyone that saw it from afar but I agree that there is a difference between being sympathetic and empathetic for those that truly were impacted directly and just having a sadness from the overall loss and reality check that it basically gave a majority of the modern world. It's ok to feel how you feel, you don't have to justify it. It's not a contest of who was more traumatized by it and why so feel what your heart tells you to feel about, it's obvious that you have perspective and know your feelings are relevant to event and how you experienced it.

  13. When I think of Sept 11 2001 I think first of the images of the planes hitting the trade centers then I next think of how I felt and what I thought during that time (which was panic b/c I had 3 kids in school) and I wanted to go get them and take them home I was so worried that if things worsened I would be stuck away from them when they needed me the most. It was an unsettling feeling. One I will never forget but each person has their won experiences that make us individuals.
    I'll pray for you to have a safe flight!

  14. @Raquel

    I agree with you - of course we're all individuals and have our own unique experiences of that day, but I don't think it's right to say that I could compare my anxiety to those who actually lived through it first-hand.

  15. I just found out recently that my husband's cousin was at school that day and watched it all happen from his classroom. He was 15 then. I can't even imagine how he was affected that day.

    That friend of yours is special and amazing for helping out in that time of crisis. We are all allowed to have our fears and anxieties. I was petrified that day as well since we live near Davis Besse, a nuclear power plant. You have every right to have felt the way you did even though you weren't there. But yes I do understand that the experiences are totally different. You didn't know.

  16. I too was in college on 9/11. I was just leaving for class when I got a call from my mom that the world trade center had been hit. I sat in my dorm room watching tv. Watching the towers crumble, hearing of people falling. I heard sirens on campus and I wondered, like you, is this it? I was hundreds of miles away from the towers but it felt like the whole country was under attack. I felt like I, in my tiny college town, was under attack.

    Just this morning I was driving to work thinking about what was going through the minds of the people on the hijacked planes. I remember hearing there was a fourth grade class on one of the planes. Thinking about them makes my stomach hurt. What was it like for them, knowing they were going to die, knowing they'd never see their loved ones again?

    Your friend's words gave me chills. I am so grateful for him and so many others who risked their lives that day to help and save others.

    I don't think you should feel bad for what you said, although I can understand how you did. I think we were all affected by that day, some more profoundly and deeply than others. I certainly cannot compare my feelings to the family members and friends of the loved ones who were lost, or the responders who are still dealing with physical affects of breathing in all the stuff that was in the air. I will never forget all those who lost their lives that day and I think of them often.

    Thanks for letting me express myself. :) Hugs to you and safe travels.

  17. All I remember about that day was frantically calling my sister who then worked in the Pentagon and telling my health teacher to go fuck herself when she tried to get my cell phone away from me. Minutes later, the school said that students could use their cell phones to call their folks. My mother immediately demanded that I come home and not leave. I was 16... and I didn't argue with her.

  18. By the way, Lady.

    You've outdone yourself with this.

  19. Someone asked me on Twitter this morning if I had been directly effected on 9/11...

    At first I was confused - we were all directly effected. It was an attack on human kind. Then I got a little upset that she'd even ask me such a thing. It was traumatizing for me - but not on the level that it was for those who were there. I didn't lose any family or friends, I didn't lose my own life. I don't even have PTSD as a result of it.

    My life was changed by proxy that day. Your friend's life was changed directly. Is his more traumatic and real? Absolutely. But we were all effected...

  20. Wow. This is amazing.

    I worked with a woman who was in the Pentagon when it was hit, and she was very . . . quiet about it. And then, to my horror, I was surprised/horrified to find that my boss started talking to this woman about what she did that day - over 600 miles away, watching tv. I left the room because what the fuck?

    I'll be thinking of you.

  21. @Suniverse

    It's that crazy?! Wow... that's exactly what I meant. At least I did it by accident!

    Just... wow.

  22. Awesome! Nice post!
    Keep it coming!
    P.S. Have a safe trip, enjoy to the fullest! ;)

  23. I totally see what you're saying.

    I, too, was 16 in a Canadian highschool and had those same anxieties. Hubby and I (brand new in our relationship) sat on the floor in front of the tv watching in horror for days.

    But I think profound is a relative term - what's profound in my life may not be profound in another's. For me, 9/11 was impactful, but not 'profound", and it could never compare to what others experienced first hand. And I'm definitely not special. But if it *had* impacted me "proufoundly" from my safe and distant viewpoint, I think it'd be ok to say so.

    LOVED this. Safe travels. xo

  24. I don't think you're being selfish at all. Everyone was afraid that day. Afraid of what would come next. No one experienced it the same. Yes, your friend's experience was much much more traumatic and humbling, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have been affected.

    My uncle pulled bodies out of the Oklahoma City bombing. He refuses to talk about it even to this day. He did, however, pick up some of the stained glassed that had blown out of the window of a nearby church. My mom and her sisters had grown up going to that church.

    My aunt was supposed to be in the Murrah building that morning. She decided to be late. I am thankful everyday that she was. Every year, I visit the memorial. Not on the anniversary, but when it is empty and easier to reflect on the losses and how lucky we were.

    You are not alone in the fact that you were afraid for your life. We all were. It was a terrifying day.

  25. There was a song written entitled "Where Were You the Day the World Stopped Turning?" It's about 9/11, and a friend of mine sang it in our church last year on the weekend of the 9th anniversary. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. The song asked questions like "Did you fear for your life, did you fall to your knees, did you pray it was all one big mistake?" (I'm paraphrasing by the way).

    But I think the point was that that day affected EVERYONE, and for a little while, we all felt brought together and torn apart at the same time.

    I don't think we should necessarily try to evoke sympathy from others by saying how profoundly it affected us if we weren't DIRECTLY affected, but there's nothing wrong with sharing where you were when it happened, what you thought, what your fears were, and how frightened you were. Because we all were. We all have a story. We might not have been pulling people out of the rubble, but our hearts were all broken nonetheless.

    God bless your friend--he is a true hero--but don't be ashamed to tell your story too (just maybe not on national television with sappy music and a photoshopped halo in the background!)

    -Jenn @Misadventures in Motherhood.

  26. @Jenn

    YES. It affected EVERYONE - exactly.

    I think gaining perspective would have been nice and/or more tasteful for someone else's "Story" to be told. No halos.

  27. We were all scared that day...horrified..saddened.

    Don't be too hard on yourself. Your feelings are completely valid.

    You know..I THINK I have my head around this. I THINK enough time has passed and that I can recall that day or ponder what the survivors lives must be like without becoming emotional.

    And then I read something or hear something and the tears come from nowhere.

    You'll be safe on your flight.

  28. Here's another analogy to compare how I felt.

    Picture me talking to someone about how scared I was listening to the radio in the comfort of my own home about how the Titanic was sinking... to someone who was *ON* the Titanic..

    Ya know? That.

  29. Exactly...
    On all of it. Your feelings on that day were valid - everyone's was. But I do think sometimes we have a tendency to claim large tragedies as our own when we need not. Everyone was affected on that day... but some, to a degree that I will never be able to comprehend.

  30. This was so, SO well written. Thank you for sharing.

    Have a safe flight tomorrow. And for your friend, a hug (or a beer... or both).

  31. I have definitely been "fascinated" by the Truth about September 11. I will say this--and this is not to discount that I have absolutely no real empathic understanding of it: I had a traumatic reaction that day and it affected me in a strange way. Every time I heard a plane passing by, and especially when I looked towards it, all my mind would see is it crashing into the nearest building. It's as though I had PTSD, and I wasn't even there that day!
    My irrational fears have passed re: airplanes.
    I'm more afraid of the U.S. government than terrorist attacks now.

  32. Thank you...clearly every news show is going to do something, but I just wish I could trust they'd do it with integrity...I'll stick to the History Channel thank you very much.

    Please have a safe trip.

  33. It is definitely about perspective, not sainthood. Those of us (myself included) who were hundreds of miles away, may have been affected by the events of that day, but not in such a way as to be heralded as saints and angels.

    Sounds like an attempt at Dateline-esque news story went completely awry.

  34. I'm a travel agent and every year when I book a flight on September 11th. I cringe. I do. I know people have to go, and it is just a day that marks a spot in history, but it's hard. I spent hours trying to get people home that were stranded on that day and it is one of the things I will never forget.

    I'm nothing special either, but I guess we all have something about that day.

  35. That "profoundly affected" woman and the news program that sought her out to tell her "story?" Are prime examples of the reason I'm so disgusted by the media coverage surrounding this "milestone" anniversary.

  36. P.S. God bless your friend and his heroic acts on that day.

  37. It is difficult when personal tragedies are also experienced as "public" tragedies. We did and should have grieved as a nation; however, you are very right that the private griefs, those are the ones with priority meaning, come with the weight of a lost love behind them. I think it is normal to share experiences of the time; it is a historical moment we'll all remember, but sensitivity and context should be taken into account. A thoughtful post.

  38. You have outdone yourself girl. This post is so touching, you actually managed to make me cry. Remembering this day for me is nothing compared to what those who were there saw and went through. Bless you for posting it.

  39. Thank you all so much for your amazing comments! It means so much, truly.

  40. Very well written!
    Awesome post and perspective on 9-11.
    It was a day we'll never ever forget.
    America was changed that day.

    My heart goes out to all those that lost a love one!

  41. Beautifully written.

    I was living in South Africa when it happened and I can promise you that it was the day that the world truly felt tiny. It felt like it was happening in our homes too, because of the immediacy of the visuals and the scope of the tragedy.

    But, after a few days, the world started to grow again and we went on with our lives, more aware of the good and the awful in human nature. But our lives went on. Those directly affected are still caught up in it and will be for a long long time.

    I wouldn't have watched the programme either. I tried to watch the one that aired here in Sydney about the Children of 9/11, but I couldn't. It made me feel too sad.

    So glad you are ok and that your flight went well.

  42. We ALL were affected by 9/11, in one way or another. Whether or not we were there, it affected is. Your friend is brave for what they did... helping everyone out on that sad, sad day. As someone who is currently serving overseas, I can tell you that we were all afraid. it was the 10 year anniversary of why we are there. everyone was scared to crack jokes, everyone was quiet most of the day. It's ok to be scared to fly, and it is totally understandable. It is also OK to be upset or feel affected BY that day.
    But you're right... what was so special about this woman that she deserved a news segment? I mean, maybe they were trying to show us how everyone was affected-- but we KNOW we were all affected. Maybe next time they do a news segment on people who actually LIVED through it.
    GREAT post. Thank you.

  43. Beautifully well written and thought provoking! This is a perspective that more people need to read and think about!

  44. I don't know how one can't reflect and think about themselves and their loved ones today. Sure we think about the more grand scope- but it's also about us individually. This is a hard day here. My husband was there too. He still won't talk about it and we have been together 10 years.

  45. Thank you for posting. This morning I woke up to Katie Couric's voice and footage of the two towers before the second plane hit. The world did feel very small that day, but waking up to the footage was too much and I quickly changed the channel. Your post was far more thought provoking than watching the towers. The day of, it was devastating. Those who were not there or did not loose someone do not relive this once a year, they do it every day they miss the person they lost, or have flashbacks of the experience. Thank you for adding perspective to a day we should never forget.

  46. I was in Connecticut when it happened. I knew people that were there. I knew people that lost people there. I just want to say that your 9/11 story might not be as dramatic as your friends, but it still counts. Your story still matters. I haven't written about my experience mucch because I still can't find the words. I think it's getting to be too commercialized in some ways. Probably 50% of my friends on facebook have changed their profiles to reflect something about 9/11. I'm not sure what I feel about this. Thinking about it makes me feel quiet, scared, and maybe a little numb. I'm not sure I want to keep remembering it. It was a very frightening day.


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