September 11th is not a day I consciously commemorate. But there is some reflex that seizes in the soul when you find yourself writing a check or dating an enrollment packet and those numbers–9/11–form on the page in front of you. Some internal clanging that says I know this day. And you remember.
I didn't know anyone working in the Trade Center or the Pentagon or booked to travel on those airplanes. I've been back East once, but that was in Canada. I've never seen the skyline of New York–before or after. I've never been to Washington.
I was mopping my floor that morning. My oldest children were at school and I had a toddler wrapped around one knee. The three-month-old infant was sleeping on the couch and the four-year-old played nearby. My husband was a contractor at the time, working 16 to 18 hour days; he'd leave before the kids were awake and come home after they were asleep. Long summer days would go by where he'd not see them at all and when Sunday came around he'd be startled by how much they'd grown.
I was surprised to hear his voice when I answered the phone that morning; in 8 years of marriage he'd never called from work.
"Hey!?" I remember saying it like a question.
"What are you doing?"
"The usual. Mopping. Why?"
There was a pause. It was like getting that call from the guy you secretly had a crush on in high school. Unexpected. Welcome. Mysterious. I could hear the radio in the background.
"Turn on the t.v.," he said.
"Just turn it on."
And then he hung up. I thought maybe somebody had played a practical joke with the satellite dish–fixed it to only pick up the shopping network or something, maybe. What else could it be?
So I turned our old television set on.
Bizarre. A bomb or something in New York City. I called my sister-in-law to come down and see. We exclaimed over it while the four year old sucked his wrist and sat there, puzzled. It was curious, this billowing smoke and all the talking, speculating heads on the television.
It was the second plane that did us in. Everyone saw it coming. Millions and millions of people watched its approach and none of us could stop it, no matter how many times we replayed the tape. It disappeared, every time, from one side of the building and it didn't emerge on the other like it should have–just an airplane, passing by.
It hit and we couldn't stop it. We couldn't stop the people from jumping or burning or falling or the collapse of an entire city block. And all over the country there were other airliners in the air, destinations suddenly unknown.
I was not frightened for my own safety or my children's; the devastation was too far removed. But I sat there on the couch with my sister-in-law and we cried. The whole nation cried. And then we went mad with Americana; we put stars and stripes and the American flag on everything we could find. Every yard had a memorial. We could not stop the destruction but we could stand up and say, No! This should not be! and so we did, en masse and for a long time.
This morning I wanted to go through my journals and find out what else has happened on this day. On September 11, 1997, and 1982, and 1979. I wanted to say, "Hey, there are other things–wonderful things–that have happened today. Crazy people with explosives–that was just one of them."
But it's still September 11. There is no historical fact in the past, present or future to muffle the concussive effect that date–uttered or written or thought–has on the soul of anyone old enough to have memory of it.
Today we fight a hotly-contested war in the Middle East. I do not see an end to selfishness or the distorted ideals that allow man to torment man in the name of religion, politics or greed. I fully expect another date, another year, to hold equal or surpassing horror for us–whether on an international, national or private scale. Members of my own family are newly widowed, abandoned, or smarting from undeserved abuse; many suffer from chronic pain or incurable illness and some are just waiting to die. Others face obstacles so insurmountable that I cannot fathom the decisions that are theirs to make.
And some days I feel hope is a more relentless force than that second airplane–it keeps blindsiding us out of nowhere, in the midst of already unspeakable sadness. But instead of buckling under that blow, we still stand, solitary pillars against a darkening sky. I feel its impact and to remain upright is nearly bewildering–to realize that no matter how many times we are hit, we keep living; we keep hoping. We have faith. We recycle our empty grocery sacks and spent batteries and we go to the polls and we teach our children–all because we have faith, still, in the future of this planet and the human race which inhabits it.
I wonder, is there anything, anything at all, that could truly fold us while there remain any who hope?