There are a few days in history that my memory has imprinted so intensely, I can recall small details with clarity. When the Challenger blew up on January 28, 1986 I was sick and home from school. I had been helping my mom stencil a nursery. She ran out of a paint and went to run an errand. In the absence of supervision, I wandered down to the TV for a break. Sitting criss-cross, two feet from the screen, I watched as the Space Shuttle Challenger ascended and then, suddenly smoke was everywhere. I remember watching in awe and disbelief. I sat wondering at the state of Christa McAuliffe’s family, students and friends: their excitement and exhilaration extinguished within brief seconds and crushed into despair.

On April 20, 1999 I sat at home nursing my newborn daughter in a big black leather chair that had belonged to my husband’s late grandfather. With my sweet gray kitten curled up beside us, we watched as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold executed their finely planned massacre on Columbine High School. The news coverage was like a train wreck that I could not turn away from. I cried for the students and teachers in Columbine. I wept for my infant daughter and the world that she was to grow up in.

Years later, on a sunny crisp New England fall morning, I was putting ingredients into a crock pot for a Chili dinner. I had just realized that I didn’t have the second can of kidney beans I needed for the recipe when the phone rang. My husband simply said, “Turn on the TV.” I held the phone in silence as I watched the coverage of planes crashing into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. As the towers collapsed to rubble, I felt my heart release like air from a balloon. I was enveloped by a sense of impending doom. When I spoke, I remember saying, “This is not over.”

That Tuesday September 11, 2001 I had a one year old, a three year old and a four year old in tow. I popped the Winnie-the-Pooh CD out of the disc player in the car and we listened to talk radio on our trip to the grocery store. When another plane hit the Pentagon, instead of surprise, I reacted with a feeling of knowing expectation. When the plane crashed to the ground in Pennsylvania, I knew in my heart there were passengers, Americans, that became heros on that flight.

I spent several hours trying to contact those who’d I’d graduated college with that worked in NYC. I was blessed, they were all evacuated to New Jersey. I, like many, lost nothing that day except our sense of America’s invincibility.

The crock pot of chili was served for dinner and the excess put in containers in the freezer. I had a habit of labeling and dating my left overs. My stomach dropped every time I opened the freezer and saw the 9-11 Chili sitting like a monument of remembrance in my freezer.

That same week I had planned to take the kids to Castle Island to have a picnic and watch planes go in and out of Logan airport. Of course the spirit of that trip was already absent before they called for the grounding of all but military air travel. During those days, the sound of a plane would cause me to catch my breath and look to the sky. Weeks went by before I stopped waiting for another shoe to drop.

Yesterday I met a 9-11 survivor from the 90th floor. She still suffers from PTSD. She has not worked in 12 years. She will never forget. She told me that living in Texas is harder then being in New York. She said that in New York everyone understands; they know what she went through and how she feels. In New York everyone experienced the attacks, they watched the events unfold, they lost people they worked with, people they had beers with, people they placed their investments with, people they had once gone on a date with, and people they loved. New York City was permanently altered physically and emotionally that day. I told her I would pray for her today.

This is my prayer and my promise: to never forget.

In closing, my favorite verse from a song that always brings tears of pride to my eyes:

And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.

And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.”

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