Sunday, September 12, 2010
Am I A Coward?
I generally don't think of myself as such. I've moved 1000 miles away from family and friends, supporting them in tough times. I agreed to let my husband put himself in harm's way. For a number of years, I took care of and comforted the sick and dying. I helped get fellow workers out when the paint plant we were working in threatened to explode.
Then why did I want to go back to bed and ignore reality for one day yesterday, on the ninth anniversary of 9/11?
I really didn't have a chance for heroism on that clear Tuesday morning. I was driving to high school in my dad's Buick LeSabre (loved that car, cried when he sold it) because I had my Certified Nurse's Aide clinicals right after school. I remember the morning show announcers saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. They also didn't know how big the plane was. At the top of the hour, there wasn't much more information than that. I was walking into school when the second plane hit.
For the rest of the day, we did nothing but watch TV. In Theology, we spent the period praying, hard. When we played hackensack at break, some of the guys were giving a classmate of mine a hard time, saying that because of our proximity to SAC Omaha, if it got nuked, we'd either turn into glass or die horrible deaths from the radiation. She was a fairly fragile person, so I tried to stop it immediately. I did hear a lot of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" sung in the hallways by the guys trying to be brave. I don't think it really hit them until the next day.
I would have rather not gone to my clinical, but we were halfway through the 75-hour course and our instructor promised us an easy day. A line was beginning to form at the gas station across from the nursing home. I helped out on the east wing and then went into the dementia ward. We were there to observe and couldn't do very much, so I sat next to a resident who was watching TV. She was blissfully ignorant of what was going on, and as I was holding her hand, it suddenly hit me how much I envied her. Chaos and terror reigned, and she just smiled at me and squeezed my hand.
I needed that peace when I got home. My father was frantically calling a number over and over while my mom searched through old Christmas letters. My dad's college roommate of three years worked at the Pentagon, and Dad couldn't get ahold of him. It took two days before we heard from him. Thankfully, he had just retired from his contracting position. However, he lived two blocks from the Pentagon and his family was prudently checking into a hotel.
We were all overwhemed with information after 9/11. How many people died, the heroism of NYPD, FDNY, and ordinary citizens; where bin Laden was supposed to be, the intelligence failures that let al-Qaeda slip through the cracks, and what we were going to do about it all. Being more of the political animal, I focused on that last part. This was not a normal war, so what were going to do militarily?
I remember the anniversaries of 9/11, but they didn't impact me very much. My brother had not chosen to go into the Reserves when his 6-year enlistment in the National Guard ended in 2000 because of his wrists. A classmate of mine went into the National Guard (the same one scaring that girl on 9/11) and served two tours in Iraq.
Then one year they re-aired the Naudet brothers' documentary "9/11" for an anniversary. I watched it with my parents, and we all could barely stand it. It wasn't the sound of thousands of Americans screaming in the street as the second plane hit, as Allahpundit put it. It wasn't the horror of the towers collapsing with thousands of Americans inside.
It was the jumpers.
The firefighters in the lobby stopped in their tracks, horrified at the thought that conditions were so bad that people considered plummeting into the glass ceiling of the lobby better than being burned alive. The emergency personnel kept doing their jobs, but they cringed every time there was a loud thud. They knew what it meant.
That's the moment 9/11 became real to me. I have medical training. I know what those poor people went through as their lungs were being seared so they leapt out a window 100 stories from the ground. A commenter at Michelle Malkin's wrote about a lady trying to hold her skirt down as she jumped. These images are so horrific that news corporations refuse to re-broadcast them.
And I can't stand thinking about the jumpers. I have the gift of empathy, and it's why I got out of the medical profession. There are some things my brain cannot handle, and every year it gets worse, because I force it back into the front of my mind to remember why we fight. Is it cowardice to not want to have to go through that every year?
Three years ago, my fiance was not enjoying college. I was three years into an English: Writing degree, and had taken a year off to work while he was a Computer Sciences student. He wanted to join the armed forces, and Air Force looked like it had the best toys. (They do.) It was also the safest of all the branches, which is why I agreed to it. He took a special test, scored absurdedly high on it, and convinced the Air Force that his mind was worth pouring half a million dollars of training into it.
Is it cowardice that I am glad that my husband will never serve in the traditional sense? He will put himself in harm's way from time to time, especially with the assignment he's looking at, but if they are handing him a gun, it will be the end of the world.
I am support personnel. I make my husband's job in the military possible (trust me, he can barely wash his ABUs). I send care packages to troops. I welcome home our chaplains, who tell of ministering to Americans and foreigners overseas. I do all these things and try to come up with more to support the War on Terror (it will always be that to me, no matter what Obama says). I always worry that it's not enough.
I am inspired by one thing that will never change.
Have you ever seen a disaster in a Third World nation? People run around like chickens with their heads cut off. They honestly do not know what to do.
What does an American do? We run back into the building if we happen to be present. We send in our military to help. We flip open our phones and text money to the Red Cross as we're walking down to the blood bank. We email people in the area and set up charities on the spot. The first thing we ask is, "How can we help?"
We run back into danger, because, in the immortal words of my husband's commander, "We're Americans, damnit!"