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More Than Just a Day

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Posted 09-11-2012 at 12:20 AM by Jeff Westover

Over on Facebook I'm seeing lots of images and reminders of 9/11. Most of the sentiments say something to the effect of "Never Forget".

That seems a little too little when it comes to talking about that day. I forget how small my children were then and how young so many folks I know now were on that fateful day.

Maybe it makes me sound old. But I just cannot forget that day. And I think it is important we all share and archive our personal stories from that day.

Everyone has a personal story from that day. You didn't have to be in New York to be affected by it.

For me, the Internet makes the world so much smaller. And it was so true that day, too.

I was in Utah and it was a busy morning. I was preparing for what was called then my "Christmas Meeting". I worked for a retailer whose business was tied to a successful Christmas selling season and it was the biggest meeting of the year for me.

I was new with the company, only two months on the job. That made that first Christmas meeting so very important for me and my people.

I was up early as was the rest of my house. It was an unusual day because my wife for some unexplained reason had the television on and was watching it while she did the hair of my girls in school. The TV then, as now, is rarely ever on at that time of day.

Suddenly Sandy called me in the room. "I think I just saw a plane go into the World Trade Center!" she cried.

As we sat there and watched the video then being played over and over on the TV I had a knot developing in the pit of my stomach. "I don't think that's an accident," I told my wife.

Just then we both saw the second plane hit. We were stunned.

As Sandy rushed the kids off to school she was pale and shaking. I was glued to the TV, wondering what this all meant. My cell phone started to ring and people were asking me what we were going to do. I had to get going with my day and not knowing any better I told them to proceed to the meeting place as planned.

Headquarters for the company were in California and they were an hour behind me. I couldn't get hold of anyone. So I drove with the radio on and got to the meeting place. Someone had the presence of mind to bring in a radio and we were all talking about the events. They asked if they could keep the news on until we had to start our meeting. I said "Of course!" and we huddled there, not believing what we were hearing.

Finally my boss called and said the company had closed all the stores and to send every home to their families. We were all relieved and left in a hurry. For the next three days at least I was glued to my television.

I took a lot of comfort in where I was living because, as we like to joke, nothing ever happens in Utah. But within a day or two I found a connection to 9/11 I was not expecting. I have played fantasy baseball for about 20 years and I play it online, never having actually met any of the people I play it with. There, like here, I have formed lasting friendships and one of my dear friends from that little hobby lived in New York and worked in the World Trade Center.

He was at work that day. And he was lost that day. I have had the privilege of remaining in contact with his sons, who were just boys when it happened. They are men now. And I consider it an honor to know them and in a small way to help them remember their Dad, a man who I had thousands of conversations with over the years on topics ranging from baseball to politics to religion to home and family. I received a Christmas card from him every year and I treasure them now like I treasure few others.

That awful, terrible day was one I knew that was historic. I knew I would remember the scenes of that day -- both those that happened in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington DC and those that happened to me personally where I was -- and that they would be forever burned on my brains.

But what I didn't expect was how it would touch me in so many other ways, especially right here on My Merry Christmas.

You have to understand what it was like then. In 2001 we had a large website but almost no community at all. This was before we had forums here. Since the very beginning in our online efforts I have maintained a relationship with many site users by way of email.

It had just always been that way. Christmas has a way of connecting people even when all they can find on a site is a contact link. I work on many websites and I've never had contact with site users like I do on this website.

I have kept statistics and outlines and notes from each season here on My Merry Christmas and I cannot tell you what a different year Christmas was in 2001.

And 9/11 changed everything.

We were flooded with emails about the event. We had contact from people concerned with how we would handle it in our Santa tracking that year and indeed the letters to Santa from the kids that year were reflective of that awful day.

Lots of kids saw the events of 9/11 on television. And some kids were affected by them in very personal ways.

I first got to know one of the wonderful men of the Santa community through 9/11. I received a letter from a little boy who lost his Mom on 9/11 and I just couldn't handle it myself. He needed Santa and I found a Santa in the New York area who tracked this kid down and visited him. The letters I received from this boy's family and from Santa himself are sacred things to me now. I read them when I need a reminder of what Christmas is all about.

We didn't have a lot of letters from kids or families directly affected by 9/11. But we had many, many letters from people like me, who watched it all on television and who just couldn't celebrate Christmas that year. There were hundreds of such letters.

I had people openly criticize MMC for celebrating Christmas that year. I had others reaching out to us asking how they could get the Christmas spirit. I had even more just sharing their thoughts and feelings and remembrances of other tough Christmas seasons.

For some, Christmas was just too much to celebrate that year. For others, it was so absolutely necessary.

But, as the old song goes, "from the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success". Those humbling days of the 9/11 season taught us a great deal about how many feel about the contemporary Christmas.

I can almost draw a line on our editorial style from back in those days. From 9/11 we grew a little more humble and appreciative about Christmas. We waxed more nostalgic, I know, because of 9/11 in that it taught us in a brutal fashion that life is fleeting and time together is precious. We learned to approach Christmas more urgently.

We also learned, I think, to connect with people on a more personal level that season. I normally just don't have the time to respond to all the feedback we receive. That was one of the reasons we added forums to the site a few years after 9/11. People need to talk, even about Christmas. I was told in the webmaster community that a seasonal "hobby" like Christmas could never be sustained on a year round basis.

Boy, were they wrong.

And that's because people need each other. And that was the big lesson of 9/11 and Christmas.

We have our own reasons -- each of us -- for remembering -- or wanting to forget -- 9/11.

But to me, thanks to the Christmas season of 9/11, it will always be more than just a day.

And forgetting is just not possible.
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  1. Old Comment
    MerryCarey's Avatar
    Thanks for sharing your personal stories, Jeff. It's solemn to reflect how 9/11 and Christmas bring us together in radically different ways.
    Posted 09-11-2012 at 07:34 AM by MerryCarey MerryCarey is online now
  2. Old Comment
    usafvet's Avatar
    Well written blog post, Jeff. On 9/11 I was in the military stationed at Dover AFB. I typed a blogpost reminiscing about that day 11 years ago and invite you to read it.

    http://www.dannytamonline.com/the-11...sary-of-91101/
    Posted 09-17-2012 at 06:29 PM by usafvet usafvet is offline
 
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