Tribute to September 11
The calendar marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC.
As one of you said: "Ten years already and it seems it was yesterday..."
Similarly to many of those who have experienced the events first hand, I no longer think of 9/11 that often. Memories come back, however, vividly and inevitably, with the first days of September or with documentaries and movies at any other time. Sometimes the recollection of the stunning horror, of not knowing what is happening and what is going to happen to your child, to your friends, and to your country, are so horrendous that I have to turn the TV off. The wound of this day, opened 10 years ago, refuses to heal.
Last year, I wrote my "Tribute to September 11." I could not possibly write another similar text dedicated to that date. There is nothing to add or to take out from my story. So, with your kind permission, I publish it again:
The other day I spoke with a friend who lives in New York City. Inevitably, the conversation revolved around September 11. He, who 9 years ago walked 80 blocks trying to get home, fighting smoke, dust and debris, told me: "You know, the horror pictures are finally fading."
And made me think of my September 11 memories.
I was working at a school in the Washington DC suburbs – close to Andrew's Air Force Base and not far from the Pentagon. In the morning of September 11, I was on duty in the hallway, near the principal's office. He came out visibly shaken and told me: "Come see something." His TV set was on. Other staff, upon hearing the news, rushed in too. We watched the first tower crumble down. The dismay turned into hair-raising horror. Someone reached and grabbed my hand, someone was sobbing.
No time to waste or to whine though – we had 700 kids to take care of. The common decision was to not tell them anything and proceed with classes as normal. And then the Pentagon got hit and everything broke loose. In 10 minutes parents started streaming in to pick their children. Some were crying. We had a number of students whose parents worked at the Pentagon. The superintendant of schools made the decision to have early dismissal. At the same time, the federal government employees were let go, along with scores of other people trying to leave Washington DC. School buses were hopelessly delayed in the nightmare traffic. We were running around trying to evacuate children all while making desperate attempts to get in touch with our loved-ones in the area and in New York. Phones were temporarily cut off.
At 6 pm, the last student was safely gone and I could finally drive home. Washington DC, the most powerful city in the world as they called it on local news, was deserted. Not a soul on the street, not a car on the always bustling beltway. A ghost town.
I made it home, sat on the couch, glued to the TV, watching the same pictures again and again, trying to understand why. My son walked in, we hugged for a long time. Then he took out of his backpack an American flag and put it next to the Bulgarian one he had in his room.
Our September 11.
Now, 9 years later, back in Bulgaria, it is astonishing to find out that many here buy the sickening story of a sinister American-Jewish plot to bring down the World Trade Center in exchange of war and Iraqi oil. Days ago, on the anniversary of September 11, a colleague published in Bulgarian media an article countering this speculation and the forum was set on fire by militant supporters of the conspiracy theory.
Hopefully, internet forums are not a representative sample of public opinion, but to think that America sacrificed 3 000 of its own over greed and power craving goes against everything this country was founded on, everything it is or, at least, is trying to be.
Also on the anniversary of September 11, someone described on Facebook how nine years ago, on the same day, he had to travel across Bulgaria, from Varna to Sofia, and everywhere he went people were saying "Serves them right! Americans finally got what they deserve!" "I felt ashamed to be Bulgarian," he wrote.
During the peak of the communist anti-American propaganda we loved the US. We were reading Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner, listening to American music and dreaming of being free. Now, when America is our best friend, so many despise it...
Where did all this hate come from?
The communist regime did not allow us to elect our government, and most knew not to trust it. In the 20 years of transition, we vote election after election, only to find out we still cannot have confidence in those we have chosen to lead Bulgaria. Distrust and suspicions are spreading among us like metastases. We doubt everything and everyone. Many forgot how to be compassionate. We have turned into a nation constantly on the lookout for the enemy to blame and imagining governments as a blend of power, greed, corruption and crime.
In the days after September 11, the Washington DC suburbs were quiet, the grass still lush and the sun still shining. Only people looked at each other in a different way. Smiles and nods of strangers were lost. Work took me through Virginia and downtown Washington DC. I saw the gapping black hole in the Pentagon (for Bulgarian conspiracy lovers – no, I do not have pictures. Civilians were not allowed near the site; it could be seen only when driving on a busy overpass where stopping and pedestrians are banned), men in uniform holding guns standing on corners, and Pennsylvania avenue in front of the White House was closed for traffic. America had changed forever. Innocence lost.
In the last nine years, I kept wishing for someone to strike September 11 from the calendar, but now when Bulgarian politicians are bickering over ethnic categories in the online census questionnaire, Europe is at a loss what to do with the Roma, and America stands divided on mosque building and Koran burning, it is good to remember that those who play with the ethnic and religious card play with fire. Hatred breeds hatred. Hate sets off wars.
Let's not let the pictures fade. Let's never forget September 11.
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