Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Weight

It didn't take me long at all to find it.

Tucked in my fire safe among years of tax returns, beside the folder of  letters from my then-fiancee-now husband, behind the program from my wedding, the file.

It contains these things. A newsletter from my former company showing our trucks delivering supplies to the Red Cross center at Ground Zero. A message from a pastor friend of mine that can only be described as an epistle of hope. An email from the then-president of my collegiate alma mater. A message from Jim Goodwin, the CEO of United Airlines that ends with a toll-free number for families and, in bold print 'All United flights worldwide are suspended until further notice'. I run across it every so often, I look at the contents, and I put it back in the safe.

I was reluctant to write this post. 'Everyone will write one,' I thought. And some have stories more relevant than mine. But I feel the burden of this anniversary more so than the others. Maybe because in the last 10 years I've immersed myself in a world that was previously foreign to me. I had no experience with emergency response. 343 was just a terrible number then. Now I can imagine a face to every number, a precious willingness to do what others could not. Now I stand in a shining and orderly station listening to laughter and the clang of tools, see work calloused hands boosting children into trucks and I know what was lost forever.

On September 11th, 2001, I was at work, like many others. We stood gathered around a small TV and watched the towers fall, watched black smoke billow from the Pentagon. The phones did not ring. It was a brilliant and beautiful Tuesday. I'm always struck by this; the day could not have been more perfect, which made the sky all the more empty as I drove home. My grandmother had left a message on the machine, "Just checking on all my chickens," she said. I watched CNN until I couldn't take any more in. I had to leave the house. I drove to church, thinking I could sit in the quiet, but when I pulled open the heavy door I found that 400 other people had the same idea. No one spoke. I saw how getting to that place beyond words was necessary.

In the documentary 'Seven Days in September' people gather in a park in the week following the attack. One particularly difficult scene to watch shows a man and a woman who seem to be on opposite sides of an argument about justice and blame. They are each shouting about what the other does not understand, and the man describes what he saw, having been close to the towers when they fell. The woman says "I saw it too!" He says, one more time, "You don't understand!" and then, his voice breaking, "I just don't know how to process this!" The argument is over. The woman says, "Well, neither do I!" Two people who were nose to nose yelling a moment before, embraced and cried together. Past the anger and the rhetoric was the thing that made the days after September 11th so unique and amazing to me-- we were united in our brokenness and, at least for a little while, we had clarity of purpose--and the question, "Who is my neighbor?" had a much larger answer.

There is one more thing in my September 11th file-- I was asked to write something to be read over the PA system in my office during the National Day of Mourning the following week. This is what I read.
"There is in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again. In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it all will come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again." ---Anne Frank

Eternal and Merciful God,
We ask your help today, a day of remembrance after a week of grief. Our heart as a nation is broken and words seem trivial in the face of so much sorrow. Yet we come to You with hope, in the confidence that comes from knowing You never forsake us. We ask that you grant endurance to the rescue workers. We ask that you sustain those searching for loved ones. Grant them strength and patience. Comfort families who grieve. Remind us that in the face of so great a loss You are yet a greater God.

It is still very hard for me to watch the documentaries and rememberances, to hear the sounds and see the images of that day. The loss is still  incomprehensible and when I look at those pictures I feel it pulling as if every silenced voice has a weight. But I realize that I owe it to the brothers who walked willingly into that hell to keep asking "Who is my neighbor?" And to put my own hands to the largest answer possible.


KJ Callaway said...

I was working in NY as a firefighter when this happened. We had to go to three houses of older veterans who had heart problems when they saw what happened in NYC.

two were retired firefighters. I remember later my parents frantically trying to call me to make sure I was ok.

I have several army, navy, and marine buddies who have been on almost continuous tour since 9/11. One of my friends missed both of his daughters being born.

The day still makes me cry.

Your Husband said...



...and wow.

Only disappointment: thought you were going to use a video to the song, "The Weight." ;)

Nicky said...

A very, very touching post, Shieldmaiden. And I don't think it matters at all if you are one of may who write about that day. I think it's important and theraputic for people to express the shock and pain they felt, and still feel.

meleah rebeccah said...

This was such a touching and heartfelt post, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my cheeks. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Much like you, I still cannot look at the images of that day, and comprehend it all.

Carrie K. said...

What a beautiful post - and heartfelt prayer. Thank you for sharing.

NYEMT said...

There have been myriad posts commemorating that day, and I've avoided commenting on them. But yours hit a nerve. I watched the second plane hit, on TV - it was my day off, and having worked a nightshift the day before, I was asleep still, when my wife called to me to come see the TV - that a plane had hit the Twin Towers.

I spent the ensuing two days at the firehouse; I was an EMS lieutenant then, and as we were less than two hours from NYC, we waited anxiously to hear if we would be requested to respond, either to the city, or (more likely) to relieve EMS services in Westchester County who had been diverted there.

It didn't happen. The untold thousands of injured that were predicted never materialized. People either walked away from the Towers, wounded but still counting themselves lucky...or they were killed.

Two people I knew were lost that day - a FDNY firefighter from Hyde Park, NY, whom I'd met several times, named Paul Tegtmeier; and the husband of the mayor (at the time) of Poughkeepsie, Juan LaFuente.

There were many people killed whose faces were familiar to me, as they were daily commuters from the train station where I worked. The thing that affected me the most, oddly, was a few weeks after 9/11/01, watching the MTA Police catalog each vehicle and bicycle in the parking lot, to determine which ones were parked there by commuters who would never return.

It's been 10 years, and still I look for some of those faces I used to see in the station or at the coffee shop counter in the mornings. I don't know their names, but I know they're gone, along with thousands of other people who shuffled onto a plane, or walked into an office, or signed in for a meeting at the WTC like a hundred times before. There's a fundamental and visceral change in our society as a result, and it will never be the same. Nor should it.

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I might have made it without a tear....had you not posted that song. And the Anne Frank quote. And the prayer. And ... well, screw it. Who am I kidding?

Anonymous said...

You needed to write this blog because you can. Your words help those who have the feelings, but were not blessed with the words to bring that grief and pain into the light. It helps them to heal.
My "box" contains a photo I took of the WTC towers during a weekend photography seminar. I took the train into the WTC and stayed in that hotel.
It also contains a tourist brochure for the observation tower at the WTC, described as "the closest you will ever get to heaven on earth." Love You!!

Lin said...

I haven't turned on the TV all day because I just can't watch it all again and again and again. The pain, the horror, the terror--I can't visit it all again. I can't imagine those who lost a loved one....

Chicken Little said...

MY comment is that it will always have happened yesterday. On Sept 12, 2001, it happened yesterday. On May 9, 2006, it happened yesterday. On Sept 12, 2011, it happened yesterday.

A hole in our collective lives, geography, and histories. said...

Of all the 9/11 posts I read, this is by far the best. I'm glad you bothered.

Margaret (Nanny Goats) said...

The optimistic side of me has hope that people will stop killing each other in this way. The cynical side of me knows it will never change.

I visited the 9/11 Memorial last week and will post some pictures of it soon.

Suzy said...

I read a lot of 9/11 posts but honestly, this one was the most beautifully written. Truly well written and heartfelt.

I was getting ready to board a plane on 9/11.