Sep 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11

You know what disturbs as much as the people who were affected by 9/11? The people who were not affected by it.

Let me explain.

I was not directly affected by 9/11 in that I was not there, nor did I lose any loved ones. But I was still deeply affected emotionally, as I'm sure most of the world was.

It's amazing how much detail you remember when an event in your life is emotionally charged. Those of  you who are old enough to remember 9/11 know what I'm talking about. You know exactly where you were at that moment, what you were doing, and how you learned of the event. You can probably even vividly remember unrelated details like what the weather was like, or what color shirt your son had on that morning. It's as if you can still see that day today.

It's amazing what the brain record when emotions are involved. We were all involved in other activities just before that time, but we don't remember. Do you remember what you were doing an hour before? The night before? Probably not. They were unemotional events. But inject an ordinary daily activity like drinking coffee with extreme emotion and now you will never forget the smell or taste of that particular cup of coffee for the rest of your life.

Weird, isn't it?

I remember quite well what I was doing that morning, as I'm sure most of you do. I don't remember a darn thing I was doing just before the event. But when I heard about it, and the rest of the day afterwards, are pretty well etched in my memory.

I was on the computer at the time, living in a rental townhouse in Bothell, WA. I learned about it when someone on Yahoo Messenger messaged me with "AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"

I asked what was wrong.

He replied, "We're being attacked!!!!!!!"

I said, "What are you talking about?"

At first I thought he was joking. But then he said, "Turn on the TV! Turn on the news!!!"

So I did. And I was shocked by what I saw.

I haven't lived in that townhouse for over 12 years now. I don't remember much about it. But I still remember how that room was laid out that morning, where the computers were, where the TV was, how the morning light was shining through the window.

I remember going to work that morning and feeling like a zombie walking down the hallways. I saw other zombies walking down the hallways that day too. Most of us were dazed and confused.

I remember going to lunch that day. I remember the restaurant I went to, where it was, what it looked like. The lunch crowd was there so we had to wait for a table. We waited outside. We sat on the stone fence in the parking lot. I remember the weather was nice that day. The sun was shining through the leaves on the trees across the parking lot, making them glow neon green.

Normally I would have thought the sunlight shining through the leaves was a beautiful thing. And, intellectually, I knew it was. But that day I could not experience the pleasure, the joy, that usually comes with looking at something visually beautiful such as that. I was emotionally numb.

So many things, little details like the leaves at lunch, that I remember that day. But one thing that really stands out in my mind was when I went back to work after lunch. Back to the hallways of zombies.

But suddenly one coworker stood out. He came bouncing down the hallway, a spring in his step, a smile on his face. He looked happy as a lark. I stopped him and asked him how the hell he could be so happy on a day like this. He replied that he'd just learned he was going to be put on a new project at work and was excited about it.

This was back when I worked for a video game company. Sure, if we'd been working on cancer research and he'd just found the cure, I might be able to understand his excitement despite the day's events. But we're talking video games here!

Video games seemed like total trivial garbage to me at the moment compared to the real world.

So I asked how he could be so excited about a stupid video game project when thousands of people had just died. He shrugged and said, "I don't know anyone there. It doesn't affect my life. What do I care? I'm just happy to be on this project!"

That is just beyond comprehension to me. I was bewildered. Confounded. Flabbergasted. How can someone be so totally unaffected?

To this day I still can't understand this man's behavior. As far as I know he was not a bad man. Never caused problems at work. Never committed a crime. Never beat his wife or even kicked his dog as far as I know. How can such a seemingly ordinary person have zero reaction to the events of 9/11?

I was, and still am, truly baffled by his lack of emotional response.

Perhaps it's a defense mechanism. His way of avoiding the pain and anguish most of us experienced that day. Maybe it caught up with him one day down the road. I don't know. I don't pretend to understand. I just know it's something I'll never forget.

What are your most vivid memories of that day? Share them in the Comments section below.

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