8/11: A Family's 9/11

Floral tribute with US flag, at memorial to victims of terrorist attack on US, London, Britain, 9-14-01 AP

At the anniversary of 9/11, CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer reflects on the importance of tending to our memories and our capacities for sympathy.


My father died on 8/11.

August 11, 2002, in the morning. The time on the clock, a silent hospital clock, was somewhere between 9:03 a.m., when the second plane attacked the World Trade Center, and 9:40 a.m., when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon.

At some point I noticed that the date was 8/11.

And instinctively, I multiplied what happened to my family that morning by the thousands of deaths of 9/11. And I began to forge a perspective on that historic day that made the currency of my profession – "news," "analysis," "reporting" – seem a bit smaller.

My father was 78 years old. He still fished and he still worked. He was surrounded by family. His death was sudden, but not entirely unexpected, at least medically. There was very little suffering.

There were none of the cruel, traumatic words of 9/11 – violence, enemies, fire, murder, youth, terror, innocent. But it was sad and difficult for our family.

Every family has, or will have, a shared sadness, a death. And so every family can feel for the families of 9/11.

Anniversaries help remind families to remember. This anniversary, 9/11/02, should remind our larger family. To remember our own losses. But more, to remember our sympathy.

Taking care of memories and sympathy is not easy, even with a tragedy as momentous as 9/11. There is so much to absorb.

I have written several columns about 9/11, edited hundreds of stories about 9/11, and read or heard thousands more. The anniversary brings with it an avalanche of more. It is hard to conquer the feeling that churning out one more just adds to the jabbering cacophony.

I don't kid myself that this short essay is anything but more noise. But for me, it is an opportunity to grab some quiet and to recommend some quiet. My 8/11 reminded me to be still and recall some pieces of 9/11: my friend Roger, who lost scores of colleagues that day; my friend Sara, who lost one of her dearest, most colorful friends; the scarred lump of smoke I saw rise from the Pentagon as I passed it in my car; my dad worrying about me.

Memories need tending.

As I write this, I can hear the firm tick-tock of an antique pendulum clock that was on the mantle in our den growing up. It's in my room now. My father gave it to my wife and me when we bought our first house. And I continue to hear the clock as long as I wind it, every day.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.

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