Do you remember where you were? What you were doing? You’re thoughts, fears and concerns at that one defining moment of time for our country?
I write of course about 9-11.
Many of you who read this, hadn’t even been a gleam in their mother’s eye when 9-11 happened. That is the most sad part for me, when I remember. That there are people who don’t know what the world was like…before.
My husband Bill and I have always loved the mountains. And the glory that Autumn brings to our region of the country draws lines of cars on Fall weekends, which is why the folks in these parts like to go up to the mountains in the middle of the week, when there aren’t so many tourists.
It was shaping up to be an awesome Fall. The sky that day was as blue as the bluest robin’s egg. And clear! Crisp like the first bite of a McIntosh apple, it was…that little nip in the early morning air, the smell of leaves, changing, the light in the morning being so bright, and the days each growing shorter…
The one tiny sleigh bell that we have attached to our kitchen door chimed as Bill barreled into the kitchen, with his backpack from work, and followed by two hungry Dalmatians~ Hannah and Echo. I had the day off, and had slept in, knowing that the sweet bell in the kitchen would awaken me when Bill came home after working night shift at the local hospital. I worked the three to eleven shift as a pre-op nurse at a smaller regional hospital. We’ve always had bells in our home. It’s family thing. Mom put up sleigh bells (real ones) on the front door one year. She loved them so much, she never took them down. First my sister adopted the sleigh bell idea. When her kids grew up, lo and behold, they all have sleigh bells on their front door too! My brother’s home has sleigh bells too, on the front door.
I’m a big fan of “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart. In nearly the last scene of the film, Jimmy is holding his little girl, next to the Christmas tree. “Look Daddy!” she exclaimed in her baby voice. “Look, a bell just rang on the tree…Mommy says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” I’ve always loved that thought. Hence the bells on our entryway to our home.
I called a cheerful “hello”, and Bill hugged me and gave me a big kiss. “Fall is here! Can you smell it?”, he asked me with a huge grin on his face. “Yup, there’s not a doubt!” I smiled right back. “We need to get up to the mountains…perhaps next week?” I suggested. “Lemme look at my schedule and we will figure something out with yours. “ Bill mused.The eternal juggling schedules that run and ruin the life of anyone in the medical field. My family, all artists, had not a clue why I couldn’t just appear at all the different family dinners. Bill and I had stopped trying at this point to explain, and just tried for a little time to ourselves once in a while, and Autumn was definitely one of those times.
“Still tired?” Bill asked me with concern written over his face. “Yeah, it seems I can never get enough sleep, even when it’s eight or more hours.”I complained. “It seems so hard to bounce back from a shift, and I don’t remember it ever being like that when I was in nursing at first” I muttered. “Take a nap, then, I”ll watch TV for a few minutes to unwind, and be right in after I give the dogs breakfast, OK?” Bill said. It sounded heavenly to me, so he tucked me back into bed, and I heard the munching and crunching noises of two very happy and hungry Dalmatians. Then outside they went to our half-acre in the back to stretch those long legs. Before too long, they wanted inside, to take a nap in their vari-kennels. I heard Bill start a small load of scrubs for both of us. When we woke up later in the day, before dinner, I would throw them in the dryer, and they would be nice and fresh for Bill’s shift that night, and mine in the next afternoon. Mundane things. How our household ran.
I was quite the little house-Frau as my mom would say. All we needed was a child or two to complete the picture…and life would be perfect in Bill and my eyes. Only if….Last September we had not found out why I was so tired all the time. Why my arms and legs burned with pain constantly, so that I could never find a night’s rest. Last September this time we were in Nashville at a neurological specialist, who properly diagnosed me with MS. And our little world crumbled. There would be no children or grandchildren~ the interferon I took on that very day last September in the office, and that I continue to take to the present day decided that. All our hopes and plans for the future seemed to revolve around my MS, and where and when it would stabilize. I thought that at least for us, the worst had happened. But it hadn’t.
Bill turned on the TV. It was 8:46 am Eastern Standard Time.
I was on the cusp of finally falling off to sleep, when a mighty gasp woke me up! It was Bill. And that gasp had reverberated through the entire house….I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room. Bill was staring at the remote controller, as though perhaps it had broken or something. “What’s wrong?, Bill…what’s happened?” I shook his shoulder, and he looked me in the face, tears glistening in his beautiful green eyes. I started to quake and shiver like a leaf, the rush of epinephrine my body was used to giving me in my work at the hospital was doing me no good now.
I looked at the TV, but it made no sense. There were pictures of police and fire-fighters driving hell for leather somewhere in NYC, the announcer was on a rooftop for some reason that I couldn’t comprehend.
I turned back to Bill, sat on the couch next to him and threw one of our favorite coverlets around both our shoulders, we hugged each other like that for several minutes, then Bill whispered over my shoulder…”a plane, a big plane has hit one of the Twin Towers in NY.” I rubbed my hand round and round across his broad shoulders…”perhaps it’s a light plane that had a malfunction?” I murmured. “No…it’s more than that, I think.” Bill said in a hushed voice, as our attention snapped back to the TV set….in time to see another huge jetliner make a deliberate bank to the left, so that more floors would be taken out when it crashed into the other tower. And in front of our eyes, we saw horror unfold real-time. If you think people far away on that day that just happened to pick up the remote and saw the attack as it actually happened, haven’t been traumatized, they have. It’s a scar on each one of our hearts to see such depravity.
This time, we both gasped. We couldn’t seem to turn away…so many people were dying in front of our eyes…it seemed a sacrilege to turn away, or turn it off. Then about forty-five minutes later…we heard about Shanksville, PA. The order was given by the President to stop all air flight within and without the United States immediately. Then the last blow…another plane, and it hit the Pentagon, more lives wasted, dead, murdered.
Bill and I have always enjoyed the news and discussing it. Not after that day.
Then there were the frantic phone calls to family and friends making sure everyone was OK, and no place near where all the carnage was. We were blessed. I’m a Jersey girl, my Dad had a commerical art studio in NYC for many years before he retired. But no family, and no friends were there or hurt. A miracle.
In the weeks after the attack, I cannot tell you how eery things were. Everyone wanted to do something, but it didn’t seem as though they knew what that might be. I told Bill that perhaps I should go to ground zero to work. He looked at me, horrified. “Absolutely not. You’ve got MS. You wouldn’t last an hour out in that heat and you know it!” I never mentioned it again. It felt little by little I was going to have to give up a lot of things about being a nurse. I wouldn’t win this round. Bill was absolutely right. No one would want me there. I was more liability than help.
No one went out except to get the bare essentials, go to work, go to school, and stay home. It seemed that way in everyone’s family. Everyone pulled together. Family once again became paramount for people, not what they could buy, buy, buy working insane hours. In that respect, 9-11 was a wake-up call to treasure your family and friends as though they are fine jewelry slipping softly in your hands.
At home, that hated TV, was on night and morning, never shutting off, always in the background. No one knew what might be next. So we kept the TV on. The sky was just as blue as on 9-11, the crispness in the air just as enticing as it was the day before. But the silence. It was deafening. No planes flew in or our or about the U.S. For an entire week. Can you even imagine?
Our house is in the larger glide-path west to east to our regional airport about 25 miles from the house. All of a sudden, that background sound of ‘every day’ wasn’t there. Just the wind keening as the leaves fell in all their golden glory…and no-one to appreciate them this Fall. Or for many autumns afterward.
“Listen!” said Bill a few days later. I listened…and a smile came back to my face. That background noise was back, We had suffered a horrific bruise made by the world’s scum. We hadn’t imagined that filth like the things that brought down the towers, and Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon could ever touch our shores. We took pride in knowing that the only state in the union that had been affected by war had been Pearl Harbor. In the collective consciousness, we couldn’t imagine being left so exposed to attack.
I wish I could take you back to the year before 9-11. People were happy for the most part. We had just celebrated both my nephew and niece’s marriages within months of one another, my sister’s kids. Because I am a “whoops” baby, I’m closer in age to my niece and nephew. We grew up together. It had been a fun year, planning and helping another friend with her wedding too, and then attending and dancing till I was in bare feet (wore the shoes out!). A spectacular year. A golden year. One to cherish and hold dear…..
My sister was on the line, it was midday, 9-11. “Jennifer was supposed to go to her first pre-natal appointment today, downtown. Do you think she should go?” I heard the frisson of fear in my sister’s question. She feared for her daughter, and unborn grandchild. “Go” but tell her to be aware of her surroundings, if anything is weird or making her feel odd, leave.” I suggested. We joked that downtown Nashville wasn’t a likely candidate for terrorists. Even so, there’s always copy-cats. So Jennifer went. And nine months later Madison was born, all new and pink, she would never know what it was like not to wonder if one should go to certain places, or travel to certain areas, because of 9-11. How unbearably sad.
April, 2002: As I finally got a chance to hold my great-niece and gaze into her Gerber-baby face, I knew that Jennifer, and my nephew Jay, expecting his first child any day now….they represent hope to me. Hope that perhaps their children won’t have to live a life always on guard, watchful, distrusting people, because it seems we’ve lost the ability to share our love for humanity, for one another,one person at a time since 9-11. We all lost something that terrible day and the terrible days afterward, as different presidents and different ways to end the terror were doing no good. We lost our hope.
Try and get some of that hope back that was stolen from us that day. Say “hi” to your neighbors. Take a casserole to the little old woman that lives in a house all alone. Hug your friends. Put down the phones and start relating to people face to face. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ve been missing. Treasure the family and friends that you have, for no day is a given for any one of us. Kiss a baby. Kiss your dog. (don’t kiss the dog, then the baby…thats yukky) Play with your family. Play with your dog….Don’t depend so much on others to make you happy~ you make your own happiness and your own Karma. So in memory of all those fine souls we lost, get on with your life. They would want you to. Try and believe again that this is still the best country in the world to raise your family. Be an optimist. Watch your dog, he knows how to live and be happy. He would be ecstatic to help teach you how to love unconditionally, play, relax, and oh so many other wonderful doggie helps.
Listen to the dog. Dog’s know.