I wrote this post about September 11 in 2012. Every year I think about this day and while I sometimes process through writing, I don’t have new words. But here are some words from a few years ago.
September 11th creeps up on me every year. I start hearing about it early, mostly because events get planned for this day. I always feel a slight twinge when I hear of a wedding being held or a Bible study starting or anything else that happens to fall on this date. I know we can’t cancel all possible events ever that might fall on this day, but a part of me feels like we should.
I’ve written posts before about this day (read more HERE), but I’ve always avoided what haunts me the most about this day: Alysia.
There is a weird sort of badge you might wear when something big happens (good or bad) and you know someone who was there. Or know someone who knew someone’s sister’s cousin who was there and saw it all. If I’m being cynical, I think we can be proud of those ties, however tenuous.
People seek attention in that way in conversations sometimes–you may have heard some of that today. It sounds like name-dropping, and feels pretty icky. If I’m not being cynical, I can say maybe it’s because we all long for personal connections to things. We want to share the experience together, to form bridges between us. We’re human, so it may be a little bit of both.
I struggle to talk about the fact that someone I once knew well died in one of the towers on 9/11, and yet I long to talk about it. I think every year of Alysia and watch mutual friends post photos of her on Facebook and want to join in the talk of remembrance. But I feel like an impostor, like a name-dropper. I feel like I don’t deserve to talk about Alysia, because we stopped being friends in fifth grade. And we stopped being friends, I think, because I stopped sitting with her at the lunch table.
In fourth grade, something happened to me. It wasn’t some kind of horrific or traumatic event, but maybe a small series of things, like having a mean fourth-grade teacher and then having to move and change schools in the middle of the year. I had always been a fearless kid. On show and tell day, I wouldn’t bring anything to show. I would stand up in front of the class and talk. About anything, it didn’t matter.
By the time we moved, a shyness had blossomed in me, and I could hardly remember that brave girl who would summarize an episode of “Different Strokes” in front of a whole class. I kept my head down, didn’t talk as much, and felt a paralyzing fear at having to speak in class. I eventually bonded at the bus stop with a girl named Emily who was my best friend through the end of high school. But before Emily and I had put an end to the awkward bus stop silence by becoming friends, there was Alysia.
I remember only little bits of our friendship now–it’s been so long. We read the same books and we drew cartoons, talked of being artists. She was creative like me, and we laughed and made up stories and ate lunch together, wrote notes in class. The first friend at a new school is a milestone, or maybe a cornerstone. In some ways, I treated Alysia as simply a stepping stone that next year.
Any of you have one of those hard memories of school where you discover you have no one to sit with? Or, worse, try to sit with someone and have them tell you that you aren’t welcome? I’ve had the misfortune of both and, while not scarring for long periods, it was really hard at the time. I ate lunch alone in the art room for a few months in high school. I was told in no uncertain terms in junior high that I couldn’t sit at a certain table with people I thought were friends because I was not a cheerleader.
Despite the fact that I remembered those moments (and more) very clearly, I had forgotten that I myself did that to someone. Until I got word after September 11th, 2001 that Alysia had been working in one of the towers that day. Then I remembered: our fast and fun friendship, and the vague memory that I wrote a note to tell her I wanted to eat lunch with other people.
Whether because it has been years or because I would have preferred to forget, I don’t remember that note very clearly. I know that at some point, I decided that I would like to eat with some other girls, who may have happened to be more “popular,” whatever that means in fifth grade. Alysia and I didn’t really hang out much after that. We reconnected a bit in junior high, but weren’t ever as close, and I’m sure the memory of me ditching her at lunch was the reason.
Maybe she really took it to heart; maybe not. Maybe she never really thought much about it after that, and like me, basically forgot. She seems happy in the photos I’ve seen. She graduated high school and college, got married, had a daughter. I’m sure she hadn’t thought about me in years, in the same way I had not thought of her until I heard the news.
It really shook me and still does. And yet, I feel weird talking about it because I wasn’t a good friend to her. I didn’t stay in touch or think of what she might be doing until I heard that she was dead. I watch instead from a distance while her real friends remember her. I think of writing a letter back through time to the fifth-grade me, telling me not to write that note. Letting me know that the very next year, the girls I left Alysia to sit with would pull the same trick with me.
I’ve learned over the years that you can’t always control your immediate feelings about things, but you can control what you do with them and how you respond to them. Whether I feel that I deserve to mourn Alysia or not, I do. I can’t go back and un-write my note telling her I didn’t want to sit with her any more at lunch. I can’t even say I’m sorry years later.
But I do remember, and I do mourn from afar. Life is made up of so many little moments, so many connections. Thinking of this day makes me want to slow down, to give each moment the significance it deserves, from typing out a blog post to washing a wine glass to helping Lincoln put on his underwear facing the right direction.
We can’t see the end picture and how the fibers of all the moments weave together in our lives and in the lives of others. But they do. They are significant and important, and a friendship made and a friendship left matter.
Sawyer needs help now. He tells me that in his room, “There’s trouble.” This moment could be of vast importance, or it could be a memory that is lost in a year, but I don’t know and so I will treat it with significance. I will treat him with significance. People matter, life matters, these tiny moments matter– more than we may ever know.
It’s September 11th, 2012 and I still remember.