By Kate Dolack, Marine Corps Spouse, Managing Editor of Military Spouse
Today we remember.
I woke to her voice in the other room, giggling-though at the time I didn’t realize it was nervous laughter.
My roommate, Krista, walked back into the room: ‘your mom is on the phone.’ She must have sounded panicky, hence Krista’s peculiar laugh.
‘Turn on the television,’ she said.
And that was it.
‘Turn on the television’ are the last words I remember before the innocence of my youth ended.
On September 11, 2001, I was nineteen years old. I am now 32.
How many times can one start and re-start a piece? I’ve thought about what I would write on September 11 for months-probably years. I’ve written some things, some pieces that were published (some that weren’t), never feeling that anything was wholly appropriate.
I have shared how I was a sophomore in college. How my now husband tried to buck his ROTC scholarship and enlist the same moment I was on the very same campus hanging on to friends: shocked, confused, scared. How one friend living near the Pentagon was able to get through to my phone as he scrolled through contacts in his-trying each one as he attempted to get a signal to call out. It connected when it landed on mine. ‘Can you call my mom,’ he shouted above the din, ‘I can’t get through, call her and tell her I’m OK.’ How his mother’s shaky voice sounded moments later when I was able to reach her.
But how many others didn’t get through? How many others didn’t return home?
On that day there were 2,977 innocent lives lost.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years because in some part of me, time is still frozen in that moment. I’m still carrying it with me, and that’s easy to do.
Maybe that’s why we find ourselves asking one another: where were you? I don’t share these memories because of a personal need; my memories are one snapshot of millions of memories that day. Maybe I share because that’s what we do–we must access those parts of us, those memories of that day so we remember what we felt and why we’re here.
Alas, thirteen years later–we’re still in the thick of it.
When I attended my first military ball, I gasped when I realized just how young the youngest Marine was at the ceremonial cake cutting. Today I realize that the youngest Marine might have been six on the day that the Towers fell. My heart aches.
There is a new generation of military members and military spouses, of firefighters and police. Many of you were just little ones on that day; you might not remember a time before. The time before. But never the less, that day may have inspired a calling in your heart-to serve yourself, to love those who serve, to make life a little less difficult for those that serve, to say goodbye over and over again.
I struggle to write this piece because I cannot accurately convey that day, though some part of me desperately wishes I could–needs to feel the collective grief.
But I write this piece because I want to say thank you. Thank you to all of you-
To everyone who lost a family member on that day, a nation grieves with you. You are the ones that carry on with parts of your heart missing. You have founded charities, you have raised children, you have honored memories, you have inspired countless others to be the good in the world. Thank you for continuing on despite the pain. Today is for you and to honor the memory and the life of your loved ones.
Thank you to every firefighter who continues to be vigilant and ready at any moment, selfless. To every man and woman that has since trained to become a firefighter, honoring the memories of your fallen brothers and sisters. Thank you to your spouses and your children.
Thank you to every police officer and his or her spouse, their children who understand what it means to answer every call, the never knowing life-.
Thank you to everyone that came together on that day and exhibited the most basic (and all-too often forgotten) human trait: we are here to help others, to comfort them, to pull others through, to survive.
Thank you to those that thought only of running in when everyone else ran away.
Thank you to every military member who felt called to serve on that day, and those that reenlisted; those who risk their life for their brothers, their sisters, for innocent civilians, for America, for other countries.
Thank you to every military spouse who knows the pain of goodbye and the fear of the unknown too well.
To every military mother or father who has consoled his or her children when they didn’t understand why mom or dad had to leave.
Every military spouse who has stood by and watched his or her own children sign up for a war they can’t remember why or who or where we’re fighting.
Thank you to everyone who stood strong in the face of fear, who said, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ when in reality, they may have been reassuring themselves as much as the recipient.
I write this because it wouldn’t have been proper for me to jump out of my seat during our last military ball and wrap my arms around that young service member, a baby himself, who took that cake. I write this because it wouldn’t have been proper to hang on tight to my husband’s Commanding Officer who had been through hell and back and continued to serve and train the youngest. Who did so with such a quiet dignity that it overwhelmed me.
I am so proud of all of you. I am so grateful for all of you. It is an honor to write words that you read-it is an honor to share your stories.
September 11, 2001 was a very, very dark day. But with every smile of yours, every heart-felt message, all your strength amid the lonely nights, the stories you share of your spouses, your spouse’s dedication, your dedication, your children’s dedication-you are the very best of America.
At 32, I have learned many lessons about grace from you all, and that grace came from those who were twenty weeks in and twenty years in.
Thank you for being a representation of ‘We Will Never Forget.’
Thank you for being the hope of America. Thank you for always keeping the light on during the darkness.
I will always keep mine on, for you.