Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eight Years Later by Clara Hart

The September 11th Pentagon Memorial opened last year, and while I had an invite to the official unveiling I could not bring myself to go. This weekend was different, so with friends in tow I worked up the courage to make the journey. I knew it was going to be a hard thing for me. After losing friends that day and being at the scene as a medical provider there were too many painful memories for it not to be.
The day dawned bright and beautiful; sunny, cloudless blue sky, temperatures in the 80s. A day a lot like Sept 11th, 2001, and there was an eerie sense of calm as I stepped out of my car and took it all in. Sucking in deep breaths I reached back for the flowers I had brought and straightening with them in my shaking hands I gazed at the memorial. It was the first time I had seen it except in a picture or architectural plans.
As my friends walked by my side, my steps slowed with trepidation the closer we got to the entrance. Two black granite walls were inscribed with “Pentagon Memorial” and words which reduced me to tears.
The first wall said, “We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11th, 2001. To honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget”.
The second wall bore these words: “On September 11th, 2001 acts of terrorism took the lives of thousands at the World Trade Center in New York City, in a grassy field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and here at the Pentagon. We will forever remember our loved ones, friends and colleagues.”

As my vision began to blur I scanned the names for one in particular. Unable to find it I clutched the flowers to my chest and began to cry in earnest. I remembered hearing the words “We can’t find him” that day and in the days that followed. I smelled the jet fuel and saw the flames and black clouds of smoke rising from the destroyed building. I heard the “evacuate” orders and in my mind I watched people running. Pain blindsided me and sobs buried deep within clawed their way out. I wanted to fall to my knees, wrap my arms around my body and scream with the absolute agony of the hurt inside me. The sorrow overflowed and I was helpless. My friends, on either side of me, wrapped their arms around me and protected me from the onlookers witnessing this very private hell.
Slowly I was able to regain control and move forward into the memorial. As I walked the perimeter I looked at the years on the markers. The memorial is set up from youngest to oldest, each name engraved on the open end of a bench, with the bench opening to the Pentagon if the person was on the plane or opening away from the Pentagon if the person was in the building.

Reaching the correct year I began to walk amongst the granite and silver benches; once again unable to find that particular name I began to feel panic whelm up inside me. My friend called my name and as I turned around he pointed and said, “It’s here”. Making my way over I sat and laid my flowers in the water flowing below. Thoughts and images raced around in my head, silent screams once again threatening to become audible. How is it possible after almost eight years it can still hurt this badly?

Later I faced my friend and looked at him and said, “You often tell me I am passionate about my work, protective as hell of my wounded and their families." I waved my hand in the direction of the other benches and the Pentagon. “This is why." With tears streaming down my face and in a voice choked with emotion I spoke of that day and I told him things I have never shared with anyone. I talked about the very basic fact that, to me, every single one of the men and women I care for is helping to prevent another September 11th.
When I finished speaking he walked over to me and wrapped his arms around me, my sobs again taking over as we stood there. A combat veteran and a nurse, both with memories too painful to put into words but sharing the common ground, the agony, that such images and experiences bring.
Needing to be alone I wandered off, and when I was ready I circled back around to meet my friends. As they approached I saw another woman accompanying them. As we drew even she gazed at me and said, “I’m sorry to intrude, but I felt led to come over and tell you how sorry I am for your loss." Her face filled with sadness. She said she was from Texas, and I recognized her as the woman who had arrived at the same time we did, and had witnessed my collapse. Embarrassed, I wanted to move on, but she opened her arms and said, “I’m so sorry for your pain. Please, I’d like to give you a hug if I may.” In that moment the kindness and empathy of strangers was shown to me. She understood, even eight years later. I briefly hugged her, thanked her for her words and had to move on, afraid if I stayed any longer the pain would resurface and I would once again be reduced to wrenching sobs.


Don said...

As usual, we are in your debt as you share these bits of your life with us. Thank you for your perspective.

niddy said...

this was the most moving posting i've ever read. made me teary eyed. thank you for sharing.