The day is done. I woke up early this morning and went outside and saw the start of a murky sunrise, a smeared light-polluted attempt at dawn. Bats circled overhead and a nearby train whistle sounded, as a few jets criss-crossed the sky. It’s September 11th again, a day studded with sorrow and remembrances, what ifs, and what nows, a day so many shared but now wished hadn’t come at all.
Eighteen years ago and four months pregnant with my second son, I had a busy career and on this particular morning, a meeting with an important TBS creative director. The Techwood Drive office lobby was bustling as I stood waiting, staring up at multiple TV monitors. One news clip showed tall towers in Chicago – Hancock and Sears – with a breaking news ticker scrolling along the bottom. Nervous enough about this meeting I’d worked months to get, what on earth was happening in my sister’s city? With no time to learn the relevance of the story on various steel towers’ breaking points under the duress of heat, I was called in and began my spiel presenting our portfolio of logos and brochures, annual reports and point of sale. The TV was on in his office, like everywhere in the building, and I noticed him pulled into the screen as I was, both of us realizing something enormous was unfolding. There was a knock on his door and a female colleague said people were asking if they should go home. He motioned yes but said he’d be getting with her in just a minute. Horrified and now with the sound turned up, we looked at each other unable to speak, and I started to pack up when he directed me to continue. I tried for a moment, but it felt terribly wrong, clamoring for business here, now a ridiculous idea with the relentless evil that was surrounding us, taking over.
A day studded with sorrow and remembrances, what ifs, and what nows.
Petrified driving home, radio on with accounts of planes crashing and towers falling, I was concerned more still was ahead. Atlanta of course would be next on this random hit list, and I worried my route home on Dekalb Avenue was a mine field. What kind of monster was this new world that my innocent baby would soon join? No streets felt safe, but somehow, I got myself home to my toddler and husband, quickly getting inside, shutting the door behind me. The next day as if on autopilot, I drove to Sak’s to find a bathrobe, and left with something beautiful, a soft charcoal grey with a scalloped shawl collar. How bizarre and inappropriate to be shopping the day after, but I must have needed this soft wrap to envelop my baby and me, a cocoon to be safe inside. It would be years before I could part with this safety blanket, and only then when it began to noticeably fray did I finally.
Everyone remembers where they were that day as clearly if it were last week, yet I know my story isn’t unique. Our own memories combine with the reel of news broadcasts and over the years they weave a changing mix of sadness and strength and hope we carry forward. If our thoughts of this day fill us with fear and sadness, can you imagine what it’s like for the families of the thousands lost? It must be an unfathomable deeply private and personal layer to wrestle with, on a day that is forever public, the mourning of that morning we together share.
My older son, at the time not even two, now lives in New York. I imagine the makeshift memorials, the candles, the music and memories, and wonder if he notices, his head full of school work and subway schedules and college sophomore stuff. The younger son I carried that day is himself headed to college in a year, and for them both, 9/11 is something they didn’t feel but rather grew up knowing about, from us, their parents, and even learned a little in school in APUSH class, studying the United States’ response to 9/11.
When we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum years ago, I worried about how this sensitive topic would be treated and hoped there wouldn’t be any hint of commercial flavor to this ticketed experience. When we arrived, we immediately felt the striking architecture, bold yet sensitive, and found the way finding minimal and helpful. If you could somehow gather every burnt, broken and twisted artifact left behind to tell the story of this unprecedented tragedy, this museum had done just that. Every detail, display, recorded voice, everything down to the varied lighting installed on different floors created a serene silent scene, and carefully, respectfully led you through that long dark day. Our tour docent spoke in a measured voice and presented a vivid account of this monstrous attack on US soil. Afterward, I thanked her for providing such detail that made it almost seem as if she herself had been there. She paused a moment, and then softly replied, “I was.” Tears rushed into my eyes and knowingly, she put her arm around me, comforting me, the New York tourist and she, the one who’d made it out of hell. I leaned into her for a moment, full on crying now, and then left to go outside in the sun.
My own September 11 started ten years earlier in 1991, the day my father died, so this day holds something additional. This year, I’m realizing, marks the halfway point. I was 28 then and now at 56, I’ve lived as many years without him as I have with. It doesn’t intensify the loss or anything, but interesting for me to realize nonetheless.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: you’re here today, so keep going, keep building, keep learning and loving. Stay in touch with people and make plans. There’s lots still to do.
I leave you with a timeless poem published in 1844 and sounds from the memorial bell tower erected a year ago in Shanksville, PA.
Peace and love.
The Day Is Done
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavour;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start:
Who, through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow