My Complicated Duplicity with September 11th, 2001
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was actually a happy day for my wife Sherie and I. We were living in Tianjin, China, where I was studying Chinese as a part of a 1 year, intensive language study program. I remember it being a very nice Tuesday: I had a nice day in Chinese language class, which had just started the week before. I remember feeling like I was really picking up the sentence structure we were learning and felt good about that. I came home for lunch, then spend some of the afternoon practicing Chinese vocabulary with some of the Chinese taxi drivers I was getting to know outside our apartment building. It was fun because the taxi drivers were bored most of the time because they had to just sit outside our building, waiting for someone to come and need their services. They found me, this American who wanted to practice Chinese with them, somewhat amusing. It was sort of funny at first because of the simplicity of my sentences:
‘That man is on a bike.’
‘That woman is walking with her child.’
‘That car is driving down the street.’
As an interesting side note, many Chinese over the years have mentioned to me how ‘authentic’ the accent is when I speak Chinese, and I always credit my Chinese taxi driver friends for their help as I mimicked they way they said words!
After a couple of hours with my taxi driver friends, it was time for dinner, which was always fun with two little ones at home. During our time in China, our oldest daughter Sarah turned three and our son Isaac was a one-year old just before we left. After dinner, Sherie and I were helping Isaac learn to walk, and on September 11th, he took his first real steps! So as you can see, we have good memories of that day.
Because the internet as we know it now was in it’s infancy, it wasn’t until two weeks later we found out exactly what happened in New York City on September 11th. Of course, we had heard there was an attack, but we didn’t know many of the details. Walking in the lobby of the Beijing Sheraton Hotel, I saw this cover of Newsweek magazine, with a massive explosion coming out of the Twin Towers and it wasn’t until after we got back from our year in China that we saw video footage of the airplanes hitting the World Trade Center.
I struggle with the memories from this day in a different way than most Americans. How is it that we could have such a nice day, seeing our son walk for the first time and hold on to such nice memories, when it is such a horrendous day in our nation’s history, with almost 3,000 Americans dead, and countless lives changed forever? It seems wrong somehow that I had a great day on September 11th, 2001. So therein lies the duplicity of September 11th, 2001 for me. Here’s what a choose to do: I live in a contradictory doubleness of thoughts and memories. I allow myself to have my great day, while fully empathizing with and understanding why it’s such a horrible day for others. I will not allow the terrorists who perpetrated these acts to take away my good day. And I do this while also completely remembering those that were lost and the scar that the day is for our nation. I can and will live in both realities.