On the 11th Anniversary of 9/11, I have found myself looking at this anniversary as I have the past ten – with the same heavy heart and profound sadness. I have thought of this year as no more and certainly no less meaningful than previous years. I and my family had been fortunate enough to have not lost anyone close or dear to us. Yet we, as most, have grieved as if we did.
And yet this morning while reading newspaper article after article of survivor experiences, first responder stories and thoughts of families left behind to grieve I was slammed by flooding memories of my own of that horrific day in a very different way than in the past. The day plays back as if watching a slow moving slide show – Sitting at my home office desk with Charlie Gibson in the background making the stunning announcement of a plane hitting the first tower, speaking to my office receptionist relaying this information. Urgent calls to my husband as the second tower was hit. Frantic phone calls to our youngest daughter working midtown as we were all concerned as to what might happen next.
I push to move ahead with my day as I peel myself away from the television and the perceived safety of the womb of my house to go off to visit elder clients to whom I provide psychotherapy. Slides move forward – feeling numb, frightened, I go through the motions of a “normal” day. Stopping for gas along the way, the station attendant announcing that the towers had fallen, sharing tissues with him as we both cried. Moving on to visit an elderly client, recently widowed, as she sat transfixed in front of her TV. No one speaks, no words are there to describe what we are watching, hearing, feeling.
I received an emergency request to visit a Middlesex County Assisted Living Facility. Many of their residents have family members working in the World Trade Center towers. The slide show continues – As I make my way South on the NJ Turnpike I pass convoys of National Guard trucks, fire trucks, State police rushing North on the now closed portion of the Turnpike. Every time I ride that stretch of the Turnpike these years later this slide reappears.
In the midst of all the chaos, our eldest daughter, due to be married that Saturday evening, September 15th, calls. “I guess I’m not getting married – how can I knowing this has happened?” We tabled that discussion until later that evening and for the days to follow.
The slide of the beautiful gardens of the Assisted Living facility appears. I still visit that facility and those gardens trigger the visions of that day. I spend most of the afternoon with the residents. More slides – the faces of my friends, wrinkled by age, usually filled with laughter, now expressing shock, sorrow, fear. These are the faces of men and women that had survived so many challenges in their lifetimes, witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust, fought in WWII and suffered the losses of family, friends, spouses and children through their lifetimes. These are people who have no patience for talk about what is happening but rather wish to sit in front of the TV as the news evolves in front of them. More tissues shared. They find comfort, as do I, in being together in that big common room. Some can’t be bothered with the TV, the gathering – they are consumed with their own physical ailments or concerns. They are shunned by the others.
I hold the hand of one of my clients – her grandson works in Tower 2. She is unable to reach her daughter and her other grandchildren. Each year since, I have watched as her grandson’s widow reads his name aloud at the 9/11 ceremonies.
The ride back home – slides of other drivers in the cars I pass, looks of shock remaining. The echoes of the newscasters on the radio reverberate. The faces of my daughter, her fiancée, my husband as they greet my arrival home. The continued phone calls from our youngest daughter who has walked from Midtown up to the Upper East Side apartment of her friend. The slide of her relieved face the day that she is finally able to step off the train back home safely from NYC.
We chose to move ahead with the plans for our daughter’s wedding. Our family and friends welcomed this opportunity to find something to rejoice in amidst this time of sadness.
The loop of these slides continues endlessly today as I’m sure they will every year in the future. I doubt they will ever disappear. And I don’t believe I ever want them to – we must always remember.
~ Janet Pincu, MSW, LCSW, CALA