Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Memories of 9/11
I’m showing my age here, but do any of you remember putting playing cards in the spokes of your bicycle wheels when you were a kid? It would make a distinct flapping sound as you pedaled your way through your neighborhood, the wind blowing through your hair, your legs pumping, your heart carefree in that way only a child’s heart can be. When I think back to those times as a kid, I feel such warmth from those memories. I spent countless summer days on my purple bike with the sparkly banana seat, riding with friends through the streets of my neighborhood from morning till night, only coming home when the street lamps suddenly lit up as a sign that dusk was here and playtime was over.
It was such a good feeling to live in a neighborhood where I felt safe and watched over in my community…our neighbors were a close-knit bunch. And I don’t mean just our immediate neighbors, but entire blocks of people who knew each other’s names and their kids’ names. The parents all looked out for the kids, and families talked, reached out to each other, bonded, and had block parties on a regular basis. A united community…it was an honor to experience that as a child, and this was especially felt when we lived on army bases.
In the days and weeks following 9/11, I was in a state of shock like many others…the disbelief, the grief, the surrealness of it all was overwhelming. We all continued on, going through our days, feeling blessed that we still had our own family members with us. Our hearts broke for those who were not so lucky, and the outrage at what had been done to our country ached in us like an open wound. And like any other tragic time in this country, we all came together…our love for this country, our patriotic pride, brought us close and made us more forgiving of each other and our differences.
All the above emotions filled me up as I took daily walks that September in 2001, trying to process everything that had happened on that horrific 9/11 day. One morning as I walked outside with my thoughts, in the back of my mind I realized I heard a familiar sound from my childhood, or so I thought. I snapped back to the present as I realized I was hearing this sound every few minutes as I walked down the main road through our community…it sounded like that sound you hear when the playing cards are in your bicycle spokes. I was confused…where was this sound coming from?
Sure enough, within a minute or two, the sound came again and this time I was paying attention. I watched as a car approached and drove by me on our main road, and I identified the source of the sound: an American flag, attached to the car. As it drove down the road, the flag was snapped by the air and made the exact sound my bike used to make with the playing cards in the spokes. Every minute or two, the sound would come again, from a distance at first…then getting louder as another car drove by. And another, and another. My throat closed up as I thought about all these flags on the cars…this was a new sound. Prior to September 11th, I had not heard this sound before.
This sound – these flags - were symbolic of the love and pride people were feeling for our country. They were a small expression of honor and grief towards those whose lives had been lost. They were a reminder that our country is strong and enduring. And for me, they also brought me back to a kinder, gentler time as a kid, when the cruelty of the world had not touched me yet. In that moment, this experience became a permanent memory that has been seared in my mind ever since. Every year on this date, I think of the sound of those snapping flags. I think of my love for this country, of all the heroic people who tragically died, the unity of a nation, and the innocence of my nine-year old self on a carefree summer’s day, pedaling down the street on my purple bike, the playing cards flapping mightily in my spokes.