I post this picture each year to commemorate 9/11 but this year, my heart is heavier, the fear I have for my country more palpable than it even was on that horrible day. My memories of that day in 2001 now have a counterweight to the more recent events of 2020. As we remember those we lost and those who have suffered because of that attack, we owe it to their memories to live up to that country we became in that moment. If their ghosts could talk, I’m sure they’d be asking us “Who are you now?” We need to struggle for an answer.
I remember the minute my sister called from NJ on September 11th to tell me our country was being attacked and how, for a few minutes, I thought “Oh, no . . . here she goes; I’m sure it’s nothing.”
I now think about the minute my husband phoned from work, back in January, to tell me to stock up on masks and gloves and hand sanitizer because this awful virus was headed our way. I thought “Oh dear, he’s overdoing it now.”
I remember watching, in horror, as the second tower fell and wondered how we could ever recover from something like this.
I also remember walking through my downtown in March, 2020, after the state of California had shut down, and wondered if the mom-and-pop shops I love could survive this virus.
In 2001, I remember waiting to hear news of family and how antsy I was. A cousin who worked in the towers made it home safely but he was covered in ash and debris. My brother who headed to work that day on his bicycle, saw the plane hit the tower. He was haunted for a long time by that image. He might still be.
This past May, we found out my sister-in-law was sick, alone in a hospital. My husband had to make end of life decisions from hundreds of miles away because Covid prevented him from traveling and being by her side. While she wasn’t sick with Covid, she did die alone and like hundreds of thousands of families, we had to say our good-byes over an ipad. We had to mourn alone.
I remember the countless stories of the people whose lives were cut short — almost 3,000 of them. How each story on the evening news cut a notch out of my heart. How each death seemed so senseless and cruel.
I now listen to some of the stories of over 190,000 Covid 19 patients whose lives have been taken by this virus. How each story tears at me. How each Covid 19 death seems like it could have been prevented.
I remember being disturbed by the news that somehow there were signs that 9/11 was being planned but those signs had been ignored — and how angry I was that the perpetrators were not stopped in their tracks.
Today, in fighting Covid19, it’s come to light that our own president and his administration knew how deadly the Coronavirus was from the beginning and yet downplayed it, prevented people from taking the threat seriously, kept people from adequately protecting themselves with masks and hand sanitizer and social distancing — and I am livid that to this day a virus has become fodder for political advantage. I am oozing with a red-hot anger that a president would put hundreds of thousands of lives in danger in an effort to somehow not sully his own image.
I still grieve over the first responders of 9/11 who continue to die from complications after rushing to the site of the towers, breathing in the dust and fumes of rubble and concrete, dead and decaying bodies . . . how cruel the decision not to provide them with proper health care hangs around this country as an albatross.
I grieve that today there are countless health care workers, who for lack of proper PPE, threw together handsewn masks and trash-bag clothing in an attempt to protect themselves from the virus even as they rushed to save lives in ICU rooms, dragging along ventilators, if they had them — and how so many of them eventually got sick. When I think about how this disease affects our most vulnerable communities, our poorest communities and our communities of color, in greater numbers and with greater devastation, I am filled with rage at the injustice of healthcare in our country.
I remember how in September of 2001, neighbors and strangers came together to grieve and mourn and lift each other up. And yet, how there was also a scapegoating of Muslims and how that made us as a nation so much smaller. The juxtaposition of these two things still jars my bones.
But if my memories of 2001 are even the slightest bit conflicted, my thoughts about what we are enduring as a country now are visceral and raw. I get that it’s human nature to look for scapegoats, but to have that “fingering of the other” coming directly from the White House, tearing at the threads and fabric of our nation, pitting neighbor against neighbor over the use of protective gear and social distancing — over whether we should open schools and put in jeopardy our teachers and staff — over whether science is real and to be trusted — leaves me, at times, bereft of hope.
Today, as is fitting, there will be memorials to those we lost on 9/11 — and we will honor our heroes, the ones who rushed in without a second thought to their own safety. This is as it should be. I only hope that as we post and memorialize the past, we also focus and take stock of where we are today. I hope this will be a day of reflection and looking inward. If we’re posting about 9/11 but have virtually ignored what’s been happening around Covid, we need to ask ourselves why. If we are mourning over the senseless deaths of 3000 people, we must reckon with over 190,000 dead today. If 9/11 showed us we could come together in hope, let 2020 be the catalyst we need to step into the political fray and set things right. We owe it to those who lost their lives in freedom’s name.