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On September 11 And The “Why” Behind Tragedy

Today is September 11.

If you don’t live in America, today might not be that big a deal to you. It’s just another Thursday.

But, for us, today marks the 13th anniversary of one of the saddest moments in our country’s history. That being the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York City.

Everybody here has their “where were you when it happened?” story. Mine was simply this:

I was living in Birmingham, Alabama. That morning, I was shelving books at Barnes & Noble, where I worked at the time.

One of the managers mentioned something about a plane hitting one of the towers. It sounded like a crazy accident. But a little later, I went on break and some people in the back were listening to the news on the radio, which described another plane hitting the second tower. That’s when the reality set in for me, like it had started to for everyone else. We were under attack.

I worked part-time, so I got off at 11 that day and went back to my apartment. I then proceeded to watch the news ALL DAY. Literally all day. I skipped class, ate very little, and slept with the lights on that night.

But I was just one of millions who had the same type of day. Most of us weren’t alive for Pearl Harbor, and that was the closest thing to this type of attack on American soil. This was an all-new experience for us, though it’s sadly commonplace in other parts of the world.

As sad as it was to watch, I was more crippled by the thought of the thousands of people who went to work that day—just an ordinary Tuesday like any other. They dropped their kids off at school or sent them away on the bus, picked up a cup of coffee, then made their commute into Manhattan. Just the normal ho-hum routine.

One hour, you’re routinely kissing your wife and kids goodbye for the day. Then, two hours later, you’re jumping out of an 80th floor window because any type of quick death must be better than slowly dying in flames. You live a beautiful wonderful life on this earth for 40 to 50 years, and then you’re suddenly gone within a matter of two hours. That’s so difficult to process.

When I see photos of those people, I still think about that. It was just another day for all of them. But then, in a horrid twist of fate, they were all trapped in the same place at the literal ground zero of one of the worst moments in American history. What does one do to draw that awful lottery number?

If you’ve read 101 Books for a few years, you might remember this post I made about the Aurora tragedy. A quick refresh: a psychotic murderer shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a Aurora, Colorado theater in 2012, during the opening night premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.

Around that time, I had just finished reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which, to me, is one of the most moving novels I’ve read to date. The story is based around the collapse of a bridge. But the focus is on the people who died on that bridge.

Thornton Wilder tells the backstory of each victim and the life circumstances that all brought them together to be on that bridge at that one fatal moment. Why them?

That’s the central question of the novel, and it’s the same question that bothered me after both the September 11 and Aurora theater tragedies.

It’s one of those questions in life that we wrestle with more than really answer. We can’t answer it, but somehow that question always pesters us, doesn’t it?

During the September 11 memorial service not long after the tragedies, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair read a passage from The Bridge of San Luis Rey:

Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

I love that passage. To some, it might sound a little flowery and hokey. But if I put myself in the shoes of someone who lost a loved one during these (or any other) tragic event, Wilder’s prose feels perfect. He touches on a sense of hope, love and loss all at the same time.

So, all that to say, take a few moments today to remember the people who lost their lives on September 11. You can read all their names here.

Don’t just remember the tragedy itself, how it changed you, or how it changed your way of life in many ways (see airports). Remember the people, and imagine what it’s like for their loved ones who still grieve them—and even moreso today.

And I would also encourage you to read my tribute to the Aurora victims back in 2012. They had names and faces and wives and girlfriends and kids and future hopes and dreams. All of it dashed in a matter of minutes. But that doesn’t mean their memory can’t live on.

Finally, I’d highly recommend The Bridge of San Luis Rey, especially if you struggle with the “whys” of tragedy. The novel reminds us that everyone has a story, and everyone has a reason for being where they are at any given moment, even a tragic moment.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones on September 11 and at Aurora in 2012. I hope you’ll do the same.

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38 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post! Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2014
  2. Reblogged this on tolmima.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2014
  3. Huge deal … .

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  4. Was watching Canada AM Live when the second tower was hit. This was one of the worst days ever.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on Author P.S. Bartlett.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2014
  6. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2014
  7. I was living in NYC on Sept. 11. I remember the sky. I remember the smell. I remember the heels I had on because I remember having to take them off when we walked home over the bridge. Through all of that and the horror of the next few weeks, what I try to remember now all these years later is the way the city, the country and people came together, united in remembering not only those lost, but vowing to move forward, as we must. I have my own repost from last year up about why I chose to remember this day. If you care to, you can read it here: http://wineandcheesedoodles.com/2013/09/12/the-day-the-music-died/.

    Liked by 4 people

    September 11, 2014
  8. Reblogged this on wordsweheart and commented:
    Read this.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  9. 9/11 was one of the main reasons I, my three sisters, and so many of my friends have chosen to join the Armed Forces. Thank you for your post.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
    • You’re awesome. Thank you for your service.

      Like

      September 11, 2014
      • It is an ugly, devastating thing that happened thirteen years ago and the only way that we get better is through remembering, instead of forgetting. It’s so encouraging to see people doing just that today. It’s our honor to serve.

        Like

        September 11, 2014
  10. We all remember this tragic moment. But we seem to forget what the world is living TODAY. America is not the most friendly country to all. A lot of people down there support war to defend themselves and just there is where I ask myself: why we cry our loved ones while we kill the love ones of other people?

    In the comment of dhnonour I read “Through all of that and the horror of the next few weeks, what I try to remember now all these years later is the way the city, the country and people came together, united in remembering not only those lost, but vowing to move forward, as we must”, that perhaps for a lot of people is true, but for others isn’t. A lot of people since that day grow in anger, in hate… and I, for my part, strongly believe that if we grow in anger and hate we will never have peace. The only key to peace is giving it.

    I hate that saying: “if you want peace, prepare to war”.

    Thanks for sharing this post, it touches me very deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2014
  11. Such a great post! Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  12. myitzuthame #

    Hey, it’s not just in America. I believe people in the rest of the world do have that where were you when 9/11 happened recollections as well. I remember I was 2nd grade when this happened, and was watching Robbie Williams’s She’s the One MV on TV when the breaking news came on at the bottom of the screen. It was around 8pm then in Myanmar, after a long day of school. And then later on when I got older, I remember my Social Studies teacher mentioning about this 9/11 as a defining moment – transition of the world from as a state of peace and security post World War to a the world of threat and insecurity. So yeah, it was a pretty impactful thing to me growing up, even though I’ve had little connection with the US. And every year, when September 11 rolls around, I never fail to check the updates on the anniversary on the anniversary. It is pretty much a global tragedy for the rest of us and brings tears to many of us. At least for me. With that, thanks so much for this post and the recommendations. I’ll be sure to check them out.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
    • Thanks for sharing. While I knew that it was a big piece of news that day, I wasn’t sure how much people around the world still think about it 13 years later. So that’s encouraging to hear that, even in Myanmar, you acknowledge September 11 and what it meant to our country and the world.

      Like

      September 12, 2014
      • myitzuthame #

        Yeah, certainly. 🙂

        Like

        September 12, 2014
  13. melodyvandal #

    Thank you so much for this. My boyfriend lost his father and I’m trying to be as understanding. He’s such a strong person, and I know he’s trying to keep it in and be all “masculine” but I know he misses his father.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
    • So sorry for his loss… We had a moment of silence this morning at work for those lost. I know it doesn’t bring them back or really ease the pain, but if it’s appropriate let your BF know that people around the world are still remembering the loved ones who are still most affected by what happened thirteen years ago.

      Like

      September 11, 2014
  14. The why and The how behind that tragedy. We still don’t comprehend how could such thing happen in a country, where security is part of the system.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  15. Thanks for this moving post, Robert. Our book group is about to read The Bridge of San Luis Rey…

    Like

    September 11, 2014
    • I hope you like it. Short novel, but very powerful.

      Like

      September 12, 2014
  16. Reblogged this on GOSSIP DIGEST.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  17. Susan Rozier #

    Well done!

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  18. Jetagain #

    What about Trade Tower Seven? It wasn’t hit and came down anyway. Why did the towers fall straight down instead of tipping over? Were they mined? How about the identity of the parties that SHORTED the insurance and reinsurance companies. Did they know something was going to happened. How can a bunch of Saudi bozos with limited if even existent flight experience pilot a 747 for the first time and hit their target? Why did we attack Iraq when no Iraquis had anything to do with 9/11? Why are we blaming the wealthy Yemeni, Bin Laden ( a tight friend of the Bush family) as the “mastermind” and why couldn’t they find a 6 ft. 1 guy on dialysis with all the drones and other technology they have? This whole story stinks.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
    • Oh God. And I guess the holocaust didn’t happen either, and we never actually landed a man on the moon? Or maybe it was an alien attack? Give me a break.

      Like

      September 12, 2014
  19. To make sense of that day, I spent a lot of time with poets. W. H. Auden’s September 1, 1939, Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gently into that good night and Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Door Yard Bloom’d. They helped.

    Liked by 2 people

    September 11, 2014
  20. Ren Ellis #

    Reblogged this on The Chic Geek Speaks.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  21. A very beautiful, powerful, moving post for this day. The moment you mentioned The Bridge of San Luis Rey I jotted it down to read.

    Like

    September 11, 2014
  22. Reblogged this on aprilebansil.

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  23. Ruth Fox #

    Ian McEwan wrote a piece called ‘Only love and then oblivion’ which I found very moving, regarding a phone call by one of the victims calling her husband and saying ‘I love you’ over and over again – ‘Love was all they had to set against the hatred of their murderers……those snatched and anguished assertions of love were their defiance’. There is also a medative poem by Andrew Motion (British poet laurette) written for the memoral service to honor British victims of the Twin towers event which I find very meaningful. I found this quote when looking up stuff for my dad’s funeral and I think I encapsulates the idea that to never forget means people live on in our minds and hearts – “To die completely people must not only forget, but be forgotten, and he who is not forgotten is not dead” Samuel Butler

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  24. I’m Australian, but we all remember where we were as well. Please don’t think the rest of the world forgets.
    I was about to turn 11. I remember my mum telling me what had happened as I brushed my teeth to go to school- she’d been up all night listening to the radio coverage. I remember my teacher crying, because her son was in New York and she didn’t know if he was okay. I remember the news footage and my little brother having nightmares. I remember being so afraid at the realisation that the world is a terrible place and it can all happen so very quickly.
    I’m not a religious person, but every year on the anniversaries of 9/11 and the Bali Bombings, I send up a little prayer to the victims and their families.

    Like

    September 12, 2014
    • Thanks for sharing. As I mentioned to a commenter above, my (poor) assumption was that the memory of 9/11 might have faded 13 years later for people around the world. But it’s encouraging to hear that our friends in Australia still recognize 9/11 and remember the victims.

      Like

      September 12, 2014
  25. One of the saddest moments of world history!

    Like

    September 17, 2014
  26. Loved reading your story and the fragment that Tony Blair read is beautiful.

    Like

    September 17, 2014
  27. MD Moore #

    Great post. Sad day for mankind.

    Like

    September 17, 2014
  28. Eddie B #

    Great post!!

    Like

    September 11, 2015

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