It was an unusual morning because Wayne was home and my youngest Mary was home because her school was under construction and the school year hadn’t started for her yet.
We never had a TV on in the morning, but that day Wayne had CNBC on as he ate his breakfast and lingered before leaving the house uncharacteristically late. Mary wasn’t thrilled about the channel choice, but we all puttered around the kitchen and family room that morning.
The CNBC talk of tickers was abruptly preempted by pictures of the first tower with a massive gash in it with smoke billowing out of it, which started the parade of horrorifying of images and commentary that seemed endless for those first days and weeks.
They kept saying, “a 757 has hit the world trade center tower . . .” It was surreal and incomprehensible to me that a plane of that size could actually fit inside a building and I kept thinking that they must have it wrong. This of course, was only the beginning of a long string of unbelievable images that would pry open my eyes and mind to a new and horrifying reality. CNBC had a camera trained on the burning tower and we saw the second plane hit live as the stunned anchor and reporters tried, like the rest of us, to make sense of what we all just witnessed.
The details of every image, word and emotion haven’t diminished as I would’ve expected and I have mixed emotions about being able to so clearly recall that particular montage. Here’s where I get fuzzy – I can’t tell you at what point in the shocking and heart-aching moments in those first hours it happened, but by noon that day, I had an uneasy knowing that the world I had perceived was altered in a profound way.
All I could do that afternoon with my tazed mind (as if it were zapped with one of those stunning tazers police use) was wander out to my beautiful deck with the first of the Outlander series books by Diana Gabaldon, which are about 1000 pages each. The striking blue sky scared me now, but what frightened me more was the silence. Up to that day, I had frequently grumbled about the non-stop air traffic that made noise over my quiet back yard. I tried to focus on the distraction of words on a page, but the silent skies bore down on my altered state for longer than I would’ve liked.
I pushed through the distracting lack of airplane engines and my mind latched onto the fat pile of books and their fantastical and addictive story – perfect for this anxious and busy head. I am a very fast reader, so I knew a simple novel wouldn’t do it. I think I read about 6000 pages those first two weeks.
Wayne and I went to the site two weeks after the nightmare. We were drawn there wordlessly. As we wandered down to what used to be a familiar place in lower Manhattan, we were dismayed by how different it seemed and the smell of the still burning mass told us where to go.
In a deepening wordless shock, we got to the perimeter and just sobbed and quietly held each other as we saw the thousands of pictures and notes and desperate messages to find missing loved ones. The silence continued for the rest of that dark exploratory night. There were still fires and endless smoke and the impulse to run down there and help dig through the rubble to find survivors was stronger than I would’ve imagined. The thought that someone’s beloved son, daughter, wife, husband, father, mother, uncle, brother, sister or grandmother was in that mess made it hard to witness and not act.
I am not brave or selfless by any definition and I’m still so incredibly amazed and grateful for those that gave everything that day and in the many painful days that followed in the service of others. And for those scarred in innumerable ways by the events of that day, I am in awe of the power of hope that so many embody.
My pondering and wandering thoughts are drawn to the World Trade Center because it had a more immediate impact in my world and are the primary memories tattooed permanently in my mind, but I also remember and send healing to all those who were affected by the other horrific events that day in Washington, DC and Pennsylvania.