Michelle Martin

Lessons of 9/11

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This year, Sept. 11 is a Sunday, a day that Catholics throughout the archdiocese will go to Mass and pray.

But Sept. 11, 2001 — the day now recognized as 9/11, no year necessary — was a Tuesday, a bright, clear day in New York and Washington and Chicago, one of those late summer/early fall days that make the world sparkle.

It was a day when most everyone was doing whatever it was they did every day. Just before 8 a.m. central time, I was feeding 7-month-old Frank his breakfast and Tony was getting ready to take 3-yearold Caroline to preschool. When Tony came back from dropping her off, I would leave for work.

The TV was on to the WGN Morning News, and they were doing a silly celebrity quiz when announcers broke in with word of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York. No one knew what was going on, but most of the speculation was that it was an accident.

So Tony and Caroline left, and I kept spooning oatmeal into Frank’s mouth. Then the second plane hit, on live TV, as the cameras were still fixed on the World Trade Center after the first impact.

Tony heard about the second impact from Caroline’s school principal, who was driving to work, stuck in traffic, when she heard the news on the radio. The first thing she did was to tell the teachers to not allow their students to watch any television that day under any circumstances, a wise move as people began falling and jumping from the buildings.

Tony stayed at the school a bit longer than usual, but came home in time for me to make it to work at the Catholic New World by 10 a.m. A small staff managed to get news of the attacks into the paper that went to press that day and started work on a special edition that was published the following week.

I went to Mass that day, too, joining a larger than usual lunchtime congregation at Holy Name Cathedral, hearing Jesus’ commandment from the Gospel of John to “Love one another.”

The students who remained at Caroline’s school — many were taken home early by their parents, who wanted to hold them close — gathered to pray at the end of the day as well.

I have no difficulty remembering the events of that day, where I was and what I did when I heard the news. The days and weeks afterward were something of a blur, but that clear, crystalline morning remains in my memory.

For my generation, it was something like hearing that President John F. Kennedy had been killed or that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. It was the day that the unthinkable had happened, shaking our sense of security and ripping the blinders from our eyes that kept our imaginations from going to such a dark place.

But at Mass that day, the people with whom I spoke did not speak of anger or revenge. They spoke of shock and sorrow and the need to come together.

Let that be the lesson of 9/11. Love one another.