Amy Choate-Nielsen: Lessons of life can outshine darkness of tragedy

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 4:36 p.m. MDT

A small American flag is inserted in a name engraved at the north reflecting pool of the World Trade Center Memorial, during observances on the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2012.

Chris Pedota, Associated Press

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It's been a week since the 12-year anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone.

Perhaps, seven days later, I am too late to write my thoughts about that day. Perhaps the memorial services and name readings and events of last week have already been forgotten — but not by me.

In fact, last week I swore to myself that I would always remember.

Because my memories were starting to fade.

I have a kind of grim tradition of re-watching the news footage of 9/11 every year. I read through the reports that came in after the fact and I look at timelines of the events of that day. I think of where I was and what it felt like, and all of the emotions come rushing back.

It's exhausting. Emotionally draining. I don't know if I have a right to say this, because I wasn't in New York, or Pennsylvania, or Washington, D.C., that day, and I did not lose a loved one.

I don't know if I have a right to talk about how I felt, because I know others felt so much more. And I probably don't have the right to say reliving it is draining, because there are thousands, thousands, who paid a price higher than mine, and I am loathe to diminish their experience by talking about mine.

And yet, every year I do the same thing.

Not this year, I thought.

This year, I thought, I won't watch it all over again. I won't listen to the emergency phone calls. I won't read the stories about the many who died.

My resolve didn't last long. I came across a 9/11 memorial link posted on Facebook and that was it. As I spent the rest of my free time reading and watching and listening to the sounds of that day, my urge was to say, as many had written on their Facebook statuses last week, "I will never forget."

But then I wondered, what should I remember? The hatred behind 9/11? The brutality? The violation of our collective sense of security and the manifestation of evil in human form? It seems wrong to dwell on the animosity of it all. To always recall the fear and the pain and the savagery of 9/11 is to pay homage to individuals unworthy of my remembrance.

Instead, there are other reasons I will never forget Sept. 11, 2001, for the rest of my life, I hope.

My grandmother, Fleeta, who this column is dedicated to, died from cancer. I never met her, but I will also never forget her. It's not the fact that she died from cancer that I'll never forget — it's the fact that she earned her master's degree in a generation where women hardly went to college. She worked a full-time job during midnight hours so she could be home during the day. She drove my dad to piano lessons and taught him how to speak in public. She baked pies and cakes from scratch and she had a knack for divinity that was to die for. She had a wit and humor that was wry and funny. And she did not make her life's decisions based on the will to conform. Those are the things I will remember, not just the disease that ended her life.

My memories of Sept. 11 are full of darkness, horror and fear, but through that event, there emerged remarkable lessons and examples worth remembering.

There are countless stories of bravery: office employees who led others to safety, passengers on United Airlines flight 93 who fought the terrorists and sacrificed their lives to save others, and hundreds of other stories of selflessness.

I will never forget the heroism that so many displayed.

Our nation at once, and as one, mourned with those that mourned and comforted those in need of comfort. I will never forget the unity America is capable of.

Thousands of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers unknowingly said goodbye that morning for the last time. I will never forget the value of minutes, nor the gift of my family.

And I will try to remember it every day of the year, especially on Sept. 11.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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