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Whenever I’m paralyzed about making a big decision, I ask myself, “What is the story I want to tell with my life?” Makes it easier.

from Felicia Day, on Twitter


Friday I walked into the meat section in Krogers and felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

There, taped up on one of the signs used to advertise daily specials and post flyers, were large full-color photographs of the towers burning. Various angles were represented, and a shot of the Pentagon tossed in for good measure. This was next to the case of frozen meat products with a banner over it proclaiming that the store was thanking the local firehouses, which I think somehow related to a sale on beef. I’m not entirely certain of the connection, because (since I felt punched in the gut) I quickly moved on.

On September 11, I was a volunteer emergency medical technician based in a rescue station just outside DC. I was recalled to station for September 11th and 12th, and I spent those two days watching what happens when everyone wants to help and absolutely nothing can be done anymore. I have a vivid memory of the television lounge crammed with firefighters and EMS personnel, all staring at the burning wreckage. I remember someone asking why more trucks (fire and ambulance) weren’t going to the Pentagon, since our station was sending our resources there as well, and the very blunt answer, “Because there’s nobody to save.”

I remember what the absence of airplanes sounds like, sitting under the Dulles flight path.

I remember that someone in Northern Virginia, separate from the Pentagon, had a heart attack that morning and died, despite the efforts of the rescue squad that showed up to help him.

I remember that a little girl who lived across the street from our station made brownies to bring to us, because she was overwhelmed with the need to do something. I remember also that we had to throw them away because of policies about station security in a time of high alert.

I remember these things often. 9/11 was a catalyst for change in my life; it is what prompted me to seriously consider medicine, and affected my decision to enter the Air Force. I don’t know if I would be an MD or a Captain right now if I had not been in that station on the eleventh and twelfth. It is not just a day in my life, it is something that changed the entire course, a turning point, a fork in the road.

For the last few weeks, I have been avoiding as much of the coverage of the anniversary as possible. It isn’t that I don’t want to remember, or that I don’t think it is worthy of commemoration. My issue is rather that I don’t think 9/11 images belong next to a case of frozen meat, even if you put star-spangled bunting all over it. I don’t want a day of Republicans pointing fingers at weak, liberal Democrats who want to let the terrorists win, or of Democrats pointing fingers at fear-mongering, right-wing Republicans who want to let the terrorists win. I don’t want sales at department stores, and I don’t want morose, melodramatic clothes-rending while we all debate who lost more, who hurts more, who has more “right” to be upset on this day.

This day is sacred to everyone. This day changed the world, not just the US. This day was a turning point in many lives, not just mine. It is right to be solemn today, and it is also right to realize that in the last 10 years, we have moved forward even if we have not entirely moved on. My hope is that somewhere in the media circus of this anniversary, each of us is able to find peace with where we have been and where we are going. I think for most people I know, 9/11 crystalized what is truly important in our lives — I wish that today we could reclaim that focus, re-prioritize back to where we were that morning. Hug your loved ones, forgive the petty squabbles, make the big decisions in your life with commitment and faith. Let this be the legacy of that horrific day, and let us all move on together.

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