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When Words Fail Us

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


Today marks the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and I wish I knew what to say. Last year, I wrote this blog post in which I talked about that September day. I wanted to write "all those years ago" just now, but it doesn't seem so long ago after all, does it? Not when the past seems to constantly buck against the present, reminding us that we're the sum of all those moments and memories. I don't remember that day fifteen years ago. I was there, a senior in high school, two weeks away from turning eighteen, and yet there's this blank space in my mind where the memory should be. I remember walking to class. I remember the rumors beginning to circulate among the students. I vaguely remember watching the towers fall. But I don't remember anything after that. It's like my mind has blocked it out as some form of self-preservation, even though I was two hundred miles away. Last year, I was close to finishing a first draft of The Last Letter, with two key scenes to write. Two scenes, that's it. It should have been easy enough, but there was so much I wanted to say, and I didn't know how to say it. There was so much I wanted to express, but I didn't know how to express it. Words were failing me just like my memory.

I know what I felt that September day. Even if I couldn't remember the chain of events, I know what I felt because I know myself, and I wasn't ready to feel that again--that horror and confusion, that fear and utter despair. That inherent knowledge that innocence was being ripped away from all of us, and nothing would ever be the same again.

But I knew I had to write. And so, on a warm spring night, laptop in hand, I sat on my bed and read personal testimony after personal testimony, reviewed news articles and timelines, studied photographs and video clips. And then I watched the broadcasts and saw the towers fall again.

I've seen the photographs and video clips a thousand times, but it was like I was seeing everything again for the first time. And all those same emotions came flooding back in a way I couldn't control. I thought about it for days after that, caught in a fog of raw emotion that had been delayed for over a decade. I spoke with friends and family to see what they remembered, berating my own memory for failing me and needing to talk about it with someone, needing to talk about it at all. How could I dare write about this? I asked myself. How could I write what I couldn't even remember, what I never wanted to forget? Two weeks later, I forced myself to sit down at my computer. Tell your story, a patient voice whispered from somewhere deep inside me. Tell it as honestly as you can.

So I did.

The world felt like it fell apart that day. In some ways, it feels like the world's burning still. But we're here, fifteen years later. We're here sharing moments and memories, smiles and tears, hope and faith that the world can be better again. We can make it better again.

I might not remember where I was, who I was with, or what was said that day. But I remember how I felt. I remember what I wanted to say to the world. It's what I want to say now, as I join the nation in honoring those who had the courage to face the impossible, those whose bravery led them forward, and those whose strength is a symbol to everyone left behind:

Whoever you are, wherever you are, I love you, I love you, I love you.

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