Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dear Christine

Christine Lee Hanson was born on February 22, 1999. A bright-eyed and inquisitive toddler, she attended Knowledge Beginnings, an early learning center in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. She was the only child of Peter and Sue Hanson of Groton, Massachusetts.

At age two, Christine became the youngest victim of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Christine and her parents were on their way to California for a trip to Disneyland and a visit with relatives when their flight, United Airlines flight 175, was hijacked and flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

The young family has been honored with various memorials throughout the United States. In 2002 Sue Hanson was posthumously awarded a doctorate degree in Pathology from Boston University, which has established an annual lecture to be held on September 11 in Sue’s honor. In 2003 Northeastern University established an annual lecture series and scholarship in Peter Hanson’s name, and the Boston University Medical Center dedicated a pediatrics treatment room to the Hansons. And in 2005, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo opened the Hanson Exploration Station, a state-of-the-art educational and corporate meeting space named in the Hanson’s honor.

In 2003 an orchestral elegy titled Christine’s Lullaby was written to honor the memory of Christine Lee Hanson and you can listen to it here.

Christine is survived by her grandparents, Eunice and Lee Hanson of Easton, Connecticut, and her great-grandmother, Ok-Hee Kim of California.

A memorial website for the family can be found here.


*****

2,996 men, women, and children lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

2,996.

As I have mentioned before, there are things I don’t talk about on this blog. I leave my past where it is. I avoid what I find painful. And this is one of the most painful things I have ever been through. But I feel that it is time that I talk about this, and I hope that in doing so I can honor the memory of Christine Lee Hanson.


*****

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was getting ready for class. I was in my first semester at a local community college. It was a Tuesday. I had a 2600 level Environmental Science lab, a German language course, and a literature class that day.

As per my usual morning routine I had wandered around the house in my pajamas while eating breakfast and wasted a few minutes watching mindless television while waiting for my hair to dry after my shower.

I got up, and got dressed…jeans, sneakers, a tee-shirt and a hoodie…the usual.

I’m not sure why but it is an understood custom in my parent’s house that no matter what you were watching and no matter what time of day it was you put the television back on our local ABC affiliate station before turning it off.

So I did.

And I don’t really remember when exactly the tears started rolling down my face. And I don’t really remember dropping the remote from my suddenly limp fingers though I remember distinctly the sound of it hitting the floor and the cover of the battery compartment popping loose. I don’t remember when exactly I stopped breathing, but I do remember that when I started again I inhaled raggedly and choked on a sob.

I was just…numb. All I could do was stare at the television screen…at the images of horror happening live.

The phone rang. I turned and looked at the small black handset resting in the cradle. It rang again. It was my mother. Her voice was comforting, her words calming, her tone reassuring. I was fine, she was fine, WE were fine, go to class.

I drove mechanically, my thoughts swimming. I turned on the radio. News everywhere, more planes, more fires, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania.

I parked and walked inside. The classroom was noisy. Friendly chatter, laughing….they didn’t know.

“Turn on a radio. Get to a news website.” I told them.

And they did.

And silence fell. And tears came. And a classroom full of relative strangers clung to each other for support, giving comfort, giving encouragement. More people filled the lab room, crowding in, watching, listening. What did it mean? What should we do? Stay here? Go home? We looked to the professor for guidance. She was weeping.

Somewhere in the room a pager went off. A student, a young man, tall, blond, upright, stood and walked to the door. He turned to the professor. He said he was in the Army Reserve and that they had just paged him. He had to report for duty. The professor clung to him for a moment, her grief in plain sight. The room was quiet as we all stared.

He turned to us. Slowly looked at each tear stained face. He saluted his fellow students, turned and walked from the room. I have never seen him again but I will never forget the look in his eyes that day.

All classes were canceled.

Students wandered the campus aimlessly…hugging friends, hugging strangers.

The American flag standing in the center of the campus danced on the light fall breeze.

I went home. I felt useless. I felt lost.

I felt lucky.

I lived in Georgia. My family had called from all over the country. We were all alive and accounted for.

I felt guilty…because I lived in Georgia and my whole family was fine.

The rest of that day is blurred in my memory. But I know that it was a day that seemed to have no end. Minutes dragged. Hours stretched. America mourned.

Television stations suspended broadcasting and went off the air. Black screens with messages of sorrow. Others cancelled regular programming to allow for new coverage to expand…30 channels…all live…all smoke and flames and sirens and rubble.

At midnight I turned the television off and crawled into my bed, feeling like I had been beaten.

The next day dawned.

And the next.

And the next.

Smoke slowly cleared.

Rubble was slowly moved.

And America rose from the ashes.


*****

So, dear Christine, there you have it. My memories of that day pulled from their hiding place and put onto this blog. I’m sorry there isn’t more I can share. I’m sorry that time has clouded things and made me forget the details. But perhaps it is better for both of us that these feelings are somewhat blurred at the edges now.

I have books on my shelves at home that have the images of that day inside them. Maybe someday I’ll be able to open one and look inside instead of letting them sit there, side by side on that bottom shelf, and quietly gather dust. Maybe someday.

And maybe someday, if I’m lucky, my life will be blessed with a little girl like you. And I’ll hug her and play with her and teach her about the world just like your mommy and daddy taught you. And someday, when she’s old enough to understand, I’ll tell her about you and your parents. I’ll tell her what happened that day. I’ll hold her close as we look at those pictures and I’ll do my best to help her understand that we still don’t really understand why there are such bad people in this world. And I’ll do my best to tell her what this wonderful country was like before that day, back in the days when you ran on the grass under the summer sunshine and watched Blue’s Clues and Bear in the Big Blue House and drank apple juice and ate Cheerios.

I promise I’ll do my best, Christine.

But most of all, dear Christine, I promise that I’ll never forget.

7 comments:

Kassia525 said...

I should have waited till I got home from work to read this... my makeup is all runny now *sniff*

Mom said...

Keep this forever. Read it to your children. It is a memory that is part of history, and should not be lost. I love you - Mom.

Robert said...

Wow, Kristine, just wow.

I woke up this morning and the last station I had on my TV from last night was MSNBC. I didn't know it at the time, but they were replaying their live coverage from 9/11. It was completely surreal to be half-alseep and see the same images and sounds from seven years ago, as if they were happening all over again.

Then I read your post... I'm still wiping my eyes, to be honest with you. I put a link to your post over at Skewed. There is no way I could write up the events better than you did.

Robert said...

A quick sidenote... this song happened to be playing while I was reading your piece, and it made quite an impact on me. Listen to it and let me know what you think...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUgC6215Gko

Anonymous said...

you had me blinking back tears, kristine... i´m not even american, but i was just as shocked by what happened 7 years ago. i as well remember exactly where i was and what happened that day. and i immediately thought of you and my host family and was so grateful to hear that you all were fine!
weird German girl

LibraryDiva said...

Curse you!!! You made me cry! While at work!! In front of patrons. I think I even snotted on one of them......

Robinbird said...

I was in the tiny Kalispell, Montana airport watching it on a tiny TV in the tiny cafe with about a dozen or so other people. I've never felt so confused or afraid.