I have been running this week and not in the office much, today I spent my lunch hour hunched over a bowl of ramen and a magazine wishing away a sinus headache, with lots of bloggy-bits whirling around my head, nothing cohesive. I wanted to write a 9/11 post, in fact, I composed one in my head, and all the images of that day so overwhelmed me that I never got it written.
Every time I go to tell the story it starts out "I remember that it was a perfect day". Perfect, blue sky, no clouds, perfect temperature. After the stunned silence of the workday (I only got one phone call all day, from a woman in Japan who hadn't heard what happened yet.) I drove home, peering up at the perfect, empty sky. I absentmindedly missed my turn home and pulled into a convenience store for a drink and a pack of gum. The clerk at the counter looked at me and said, "Are you all right?" I knew what she meant. I just didn't know the answer.
Himself was at a school board meeting, which was held despite the events of the day. I sat transfixed watching CNN until I couldn't do it anymore. My grandmother called. "Just checking on all of my chicks," she said. After that I left the house, no destination in mind, just the desire not to be alone. I went to church even though evening Mass was over an hour before. When I yanked open the doors, the place was packed. A priest was walking up and down the center aisle, reading the Bible, flipping the pages, reading what came to him, comforting who could be comforted. I sat and cried with strangers.
We've all had those losses where, at least in your own world, time stops and you wonder how everyone else can just go on when someone you loved is gone. Only we all stopped. I remember wondering when it would be okay to laugh again.
On September 14th I went to Red Bank, New Jersey to visit a friend. As I drove up the Garden State Parkway the sky glowed purple as the sun went down. I thought of the brilliant sunsets that follow a volcanic eruption. In Red Bank, the sidewalk was lined with candles, flowers, and pictures. Some of the pictures had 'MISSING' written with black marker across the top, cell phone numbers. People stood hugging their own arms, in silence. For once, the question 'Who is my neighbor?' had an obvious answer. The next morning my friend Ann said,"I hope you don't think its morbid, but I just have to look." We drove out that cloudless Saturday to Atlantic Highlands and joined the others that had gathered silently on the pier, squinting through binoculars at the cranes that moved rubble, searching. Smoke still rose from the gray chaos. In church on Sunday in Middletown (a town that lost some thirty people) the pastor asked everyone who was returning to Manhattan for the first time the nextmorning to stand up. There were people standing in every pew. We prayed for them.
We've had a lot of time to attach all kinds of meaning to what happened, and what that day showed we were made of. But sometimes I wish we could hold on to those precious hours where it wasn't about politics or flags or defiance, but the realization that no matter our color or heritage or economics, we were one family who lost, one family who hurt, one family who loved, and one family who reached out and, for a little while, beautifully, held each other up.