For the longest time, I couldn’t look at old pictures of the Twin Towers before 9/11 because all I could remember was what happened that day.
But over time, I could see those buildings as they were, tall sentinels of the New York City skyline, two tall buildings towering over lower Manhattan island. I can watch a movie and see them and think to myself, ‘This movie was made before 9/11.” When I was a kid, one of my favorite tv shows was ‘Barney Miller’ and the first season didn’t have the Twin Towers in the opening credits but after that it had this iconic shot of both towers in the sunshine. I also remember the movie poster for the very first ‘Spider-Man’ movie that was of a spiderweb spun between both towers. Now that poster is a collector’s item.
My dad said he thought the Twin Towers looked like a stack of staples and that the buildings were built for function and not form, though if you look at old photographs of them up close and inside they actually had attractive and creative interiors and exterior features, too. And for a while, they were the tallest buildings in the world.
So how do memories like the ones I just wrote about piece back together with what happened nineteen years ago today?
With time. Just the passage of time and life going on. We grieve, we remember, and yet we still keep living.
This piecing of memories back together is something that I think you learn over time. My father once said years after my mother died, “I choose to remember the good.” Because as he also said then the bad memories will always be there. And they are as I remember this date nineteen years ago. Seeing those buildings come down, the Pentagon on fire, hearing those last words of the passengers of Flight 93: “Let’s roll.”
Tears will still come years later and they do every time I think of Flight 93, and the sacrifice those passengers knew they were making. They knew they were going to die but knew they had to try and save other lives, just like all those firefighters and others who went into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that day.
To those who only know this day from a history book or an old video, it’s okay to feel and think the way you do. For me, it was how I felt and thought about the Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor had been for my parents and grandparents. And how the Challenger explosion was for the generation that came after mine. We went from radio like Pearl Harbor- my grandparents told me it was at least a week or more before they saw the films. For my parents, it was television though the film of the actual assassination (the Zapruder film) wasn’t seen for years later. For my generation, unless you were watching the launch, you didn’t see the film of the Challenger explosion until later.
Memory is a complex thing. Over time, the intensity of the emotion eases off yet every so often, it will come roaring back to life. Life changes us, and sometimes it brings back the intensity of the past. The world is constantly changing, and so are we, and also how we think and feel changes over time.
But time does put pieces of memories back together even though we will never forget.