I will not forget

Emily Brannen is a fourth-generation Chicoan, a playwright, and an instructor in the Drama Department at Butte College.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I exited the subway station in New York City just in time to witness a plane flying into the north Twin Tower.

The crisp, bright-blue morning—along with those buildings, along with life as I knew it—was shattered without warning. In the ensuing hours, I witnessed the last seconds of many lives.

The towers—Mount Everests to those of us who lived underneath them—disintegrated in front of our eyes in a grotesquely beautiful glittering shower of glass and powder. CEOs in business suits collapsed screaming on the pavement; others screamed obscenities at God and terrorists in the same breath. The living were but zombies mummified in white ash.

Later that evening, I ended up in Times Square alone, the solitary person walking along streets where neon lights flickered above locked theater doors. And it didn’t strike me as odd.

I continued living in the city for four more years—because, if ever I lost my faith in humanity’s goodness, it was restored, ironically, on that day. I had never before seen such selfless love as I did in the streets of New York then.

But, though all the banners said “We will never forget,” it is human nature to get caught up in the daily stress of living and forget what really matters in the end. We forget that life is short, and that it is never the worst as long as we can say, “This is the worst.” On that day, nothing mattered to me except the love I share with my family and friends.

So five years later, I will mark this anniversary as a Chicoan returned to the land that generations of my family have called home, and I have brought with me something beautiful that came out of that day.

It may be difficult to imagine, but the joy in my present life is possible in part because of what I experienced then. I have learned to enjoy life as a journey, without worrying about the end—for I know it will come too soon, no matter how long I live.

Living here in Chico with my family and my history around me, there is no greater happiness on earth; my cup overfloweth like One Mile in a winter flood. And while I still grieve for those lives that ended so violently and abruptly, I express my gratitude to them for reminding me to live and love well while I can.

I will not forget.