Run, Evelyn, Run

I must admit I had a hard time deciding what to post this morning–or even if to post anything at all. It is common for people to say Never Forget on an anniversary of 9/11 and I completely agree with that sentiment. I haven’t forgotten and I will not forget. But still, what reason is there to post? The people the agree with me are already with me; I’d be preaching to the choir. The apologists, the conspiracy theorists, the moonbats who blame it all on Americans already have their own agenda and will hardly be swayed by my words, no matter with what skill I craft them.

In the end, I decided to share with you the one memory of that day that always seems to bubble to the top. Much more important things happened to be sure and if you surf the web or watch the news you’ll no doubt find more remembrances than you can handle. Actually does the news media even acknowledge the anniversary? I wouldn’t know–that media and I have long since parted ways.

I want to tell you about my friend Evelyn. I met Evelyn in chemistry class while a junior in high school (she was a sophomore)–she sat at the lab bench in front of me. After a time, we became friends. I say that as if it were such a simple thing. People become friends, especially in high school, all the time. But it wasn’t for me.

You see, in high school I was a geek. Truth be told I am a still a geek now, but I am a wiser, more worldly, more sociable geek. I’ve learned that there is an “off switch” to geekness and while jokes about frictionless planes and horses as spheres play well with the physics crowd, there are times to put that aside and talk about the Reds remarkable run at the pennant. But back in high school, I hadn’t learn this lesson yet. I didn’t really make friends and was firmly convinced that I was above such things, that I had no need.

Evelyn changed all that. She did it through blissful ignorance. She didn’t look at me and see geek. She looked at me and saw ‘Dan’ and invited me to her birthday party. It wasn’t a romantic thing–her boyfriend at the time was at the party too, of course–it was a social thing. She accepted me without question, without reservations because that is what friends do. She taught me that I could go on to get my Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering (now that’s a geeky thing to do) yet also help lead the frenetic masses that are the die-hard fans at a Cornell hockey game.

When I was driving into work nine years ago today and heard news of the “some sort of airplane accident” in New York City, I didn’t think of Evelyn. When I got into work and huddled around a small TV with thirty or forty shell-shocked coworkers and learned the accident was actually a terrorist attack, I didn’t think of Evelyn. But when the towers fell amidst that horrible cloud of smoke it hit me in my gut like a ton of bricks. Evelyn had moved on to become a journalist and was writing for the online edition of the Wall Street Journal. She worked within a stone’s throw of the twin towers. Had she been at work when the planes hit? Was she … I couldn’t finish the thought, then, either.

When the chaos subsided and phone lines cleared, I eventually did get in touch with her. And her story was simple yet shocking. She has become a good New Yorker and traveled to work by subway. Subways, of course, are not a good place for high-heeled shoes so she wore sneakers with her ready-for-work-at-the-Wall-Street-Journal suit. Sneakers, as it would turn out, saved her life.

She said that by the time she realized something was very wrong, it was almost too late. Police were trying to turn people around from the subway stop but were largely being ignored. People had to get to work, after all and really, how bad could it be? That all changed when the first tower collapsed and that cloud of deadly smoke and debris spewed forth. At that point, Evelyn ran. Had she not be in running shoes, she might not have gotten away fast enough. A simple decision in the morning changed everything. Instead of telling you all about my friend Evelyn who moved back to the midwest with her husband and started a family, I would be telling you about my friend who died in the 9/11 attacks.

I cannot convey to you the depth of my reaction to her story. Fury would be my best attempt and even that fails utterly. In the weeks that followed, I heard many times on the news at the innocent lives that had been lost. Innocent. You hear that term all the time but do you think about what it means? Evelyn was innocent. She had no involvement with perceived injustices of people living in caves half way around the world. She was newly married having the adventure of a lifetime living in the Big Apple. Nothing she had done in her life justified death from above with fire and stone.

They call it ‘terrorism’. The idea behind it, I am told, is to invoke terror in a populace, to paralyze them with fear. I want to call it angerism. Furyism. I wasn’t afraid after 9/11, I was furious. No twisted logic will ever convince me, as some despicable voices try to argue, that the attacks on 9/11 nine years ago today were justified. That America had it coming. So don’t be afraid. Don’t let fear cloud your judgement. Take the memories of that day and build your resolve. It is almost a cliche now, relegated to t-shirts, but freedom isn’t free. There will always be those jealous of a society where people are free to reach for their dreams and get there. Such a society deserves to be defended; its people be allowed to dream their dreams. Dreams like those of a friend to become a journalist, move to New York and work for a famous paper.

Never forget.

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