Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11th

I tried to ignore the anniversary activities for the most part this weekend.  I did read Peggy Noonan's column in the WSJ yesterday, and found it quite moving, and was similarly touched when I heard bagpipes while running in Central Park this afternoon.

But mostly I just remembered what that day was like.  The sky was so blue.  Life seemed so full of possibilities: not just the usual back-to-school feelings that every September brings, but so much more.

I had just dropped my kids off at daycare/pre-school when I heard that a plane had hit one of the towers.  Like many others, I imagined a small craft, like the plane that hit the Empire State Building.  I was surprised when another mother worried about her husband's trip to a medical convention in Europe; it seemed inconceivable that a little accident would affect the busy NYC airports.

My own husband was also traveling - I knew that he was flying back from Texas after an overnight trip, but I expected that he'd go straight to the office and I wouldn't see him until evening.  As it turns out, his flight never got off the ground.  When he got off the plane and out of the airport, he went straight to the mall to pick up some extra underwear, socks and such, since he didn't know how long it would be before he made it home.  It turned out to be almost a week.

He called, as I returned home and encouraged me to turn on the TV.  What I saw was horrifying.  The fridge and pantry were well stocked, but he encouraged me to pick up a few more things at the grocery store just in case.  I also picked up some cash -- with the nation under attack, who knew what was going to happen?  We talked about me driving the kids to our weekend house in PA if things in the city got worse (but ultimately this was a moot point -- no one was going anywhere in or out of Manhattan). 

I hurriedly collected my kids from school/daycare.  I just needed them with me -- just in case.  The facility is associated with Mt. Sinai and I volunteered to pick up any other kids whose parents were needed at the hospital -- at this point we all thought there would be lots of casualties and that the NYC medical facilities would be overwhelmed with the wounded.  Of course that didn't happen, and as the hours and hours of TV watching that day (and the next) wore on, an ongoing clip was of the staff at St. Vincent's Hospital as they waited for patients.

I watched TV non-stop for 2 days.  Amazingly, my boys (then 4 years old and 5 months old) hung out quietly as I watched the towers fall again and again.  At one point we ventured out briefly and discovered that the odd smell that had pervaded our neighborhood was actually from the smoldering World Trade Center.  I had seen wisps of smoke in the distance, but wasn't  prepared for that acrid smell.

The loss of the firefighters hit me the hardest.  They had been such heroes to our boys.  They represented everything strong and manly, pure and true.  My older son dressed up as a firefighter for Halloween and we had made many trips to the Fire Zone together.  So when the plea went out for donations of socks for the rescue crews, we happily complied.  I think we donated food, too.  Like many other kids,  my son drew pictures of the images he had seen.  It seemed to have affected him deeply, at least at the time.

My younger son  remembers nothing of course.  He was just too little.  But every time I write the 2001 of his birth date, I think of that day.

Note: A version of this post is included in the anthology Songs of Ourselves, published by Blue Heron Book Works.

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