11 September 2011

To commemorate

It's hard to accurately remember a day so huge, so incomprehensible, that we couldn't wrap our minds around it when it happened. Ryan and I had been married two years. I'd flown to Paris and London and back with 2 of my closest girlfriends via the Newark airport just weeks before. We were living in our first house, the one with the sunken living room and a big screen TV we pondered the purchase of for months. I was in grad school, working on my M.A. in English Lit and getting certified to be a high school teacher. Up early that day to observe at a private school here in little Springfield, Mo., I turned on the Sony Trinitron TV Ryan's mom gave him for his birthday when we were first dating, to see normally poised news anchors floundering, touching their ear pieces to see if they were hearing right, relaying the words as they came, all of us--them, too--thinking there must be some mistake. Still, I had made a commitment to be at the school and I had a paper about what I saw due the next day, so I headed that way in my Mitsubishi Eclipse, my first ever (and only) brand new car and heard from the radio that one of the towers had collapsed in on itself. I sat behind a two-way glass and watched with teenagers in a sheltered, private, progressive school as footage of the second collapse rolled. Some put their heads down; others giggled nervously, as young people sometimes do when they don't know what else to. Classes at SMS were cancelled, but people I passed in the hallways and some I worked with each day were huddled around a TV on an A/V cart in the English department office, faces washed out or clenched in disbelief, grief. At home, Ryan and I huddled on the navy blue couch he bought me for helping him with his senior thesis and stared at the images on that huge screen, wishing we weren't seeing what we did, blown up supersize just feet from us. It might have been going on for a long time, but that's the first day in my memory of the instant news feed we are so accustomed to today, the ticker tape running across the bottom of the screen with updates, answers (?) and explanations, the news itself evolving and reshaping as more and more information came in, everyone in the world there on the front row as the day unfolded, as the images looped. The visual I couldn't shake, and in fact never have, was this one of NYFD Chaplain Mychal Judge, killed by falling debris as he ran to the towers to give comfort, to save. Such a handsome older man. Wise. Distinguished. Thoughtful. He stood for peace and kindness and goodness, everything that what happened that day was not. To see him broken in that way, his sock pushed down and his bare leg showing, cradled by his men, juxtaposed on the screen with shots of him smiling, proud, looking off into the horizon thinking...alive and well...alive and good...my heart still goes all heavy when I see it.

Today there is football on, laundry to put away and a week of school and work to prepare for. We've lived in five houses since that September, bought other couches and a flat screen, traded in the sports car for one SUV and then another. We've brought a little boy into this big world, one where evil comes flying in on an airplane and catches us unaware, but also one where there are beautiful people like this man I didn't know but won't forget. In many ways, my comfortable little slice of the world hasn't changed much. I didn't lose a sister or a father or a friend in those towers. Despite the downhill slope of the economy since that day, I've never wanted for a thing. I don't look to the skies in my little city and think what if. There are thousands of people who this day is about, and I am not one of them. My life was touched that day, but it might have been more of a tap, not the shattering shove of someone I love being taken in such a violent and senseless way, or having my feet knocked out from under me as my sense of security and home collapsed in a tragic and messy heap. We were there--but we weren't, you know?--that September day 10 years ago. Regardless, our flag is out front this morning, at half staff, its edge brushing the pink zinnias that have grown lush and tall around the boxwoods in the flowerbeds. I will treasure the insulation I have from the fear and the grief all these miles from Ground Zero and think of those who cannot say the same.

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