Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Way We Were

(Originally published September 11, 2006. I still feel the same way. God bless us.)

" . . . And to show,
I've overcome the blow,
I've learned to take it well,
I only wish my words,
Could just convince myself,

That it just wasn't real . . .
But that's not the way it feels."
-from Operator, by Jim Croce

Today has been a lovely day -- cooler, with the first intimations of Fall in the air. But the sky is nowhere near as blue as it was on this date five years ago.

I can still see that color like it is burned on my retinas; it seemed like such an incongruous backdrop for the devastation of 9-11. It should have been dark and stormy, or at least a little more overcast. But it wasn't -- those planes came out of the clear blue. Isn't that always the way it happens when your life changes dramatically? There is always that moment when you know that something tremendous and irrevocable has happened -- that moment will stay with you forever.

I remember being at home with the two year old Older Girl, who in those days was Only Girl. Rob had gone to work at the hospital and I was doing laundry with the "Today Show" in the background. When the first plane hit, I thought: What a terrible, tragic accident. Of course it couldn't be anything more than an accident -- but how can a pilot not see the World Trade Center for God's sake?

And then there was another plane heading for the second tower, and I still couldn't connect the dots until someone on TV said, "a presumed terrorist attack." And then the phone was ringing. It was my brother-in-law, and together we watched, in breathless, horrified silence, as the towers fell on our television screens.

I talked to many people that day, most of them wanting to know what was going on at our place. We lived in base housing on Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station at the time. We always joked that we could leave the doors wide open because we had the best security system in town -- armed Marines at the gates. But the eerie thing was that nothing was happening. It was so, so still.

All my neighbors were pilots and I was used to having military aircraft of all kinds flying so close that I could wave to the guy next door. There were Harriers, Prowlers, C-130's, and the all the kids' favorite, Pedro, the rescue helicopter. But on that day there was nothing but silence.

There is distance now, and maybe that makes it easier for people to talk about. I don't know. I did not personally know anyone who died that day, but it's all kind of like six degrees of separation. I think most people know of someone who knew someone who was there -- it was everyone's tragedy.

In the car, on the way home from school, Older Girl said, "Mom, why does everyone keep talking about September 11th? What does that mean? What happened?" And I realize that she doesn't know, a thought that is startling to me. Doesn't everyone know what happened? But of course not, she was only two.

So we talked about it and I tried to explain the unexplainable, the unthinkable. She asked many questions I was prepared for, and some that I was not. And I know that by telling her truth of that day, I have opened her consciousness to so many possible impossibilities. Planes crash, children lose their parents, parents lose their children, not everyone gets out of a burning building.

But that knowledge is like Pandora's Box; deep down at the bottom, after every horrible thing has come to the light of day, there is still hope; there is still something honest and true; there are still the people who will struggle to help. Like Anne Frank said, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."


  1. Anonymous6:09 AM

    I still remember every single detail of that day. My older boy was only 3 months old and rocking in his swing, sleeping in the living room. He still does not know the details of that day. They have not talked about it in school and I am not ready to take away his happy thoughts about the world. But, we will have to talk about it soon, it may come up today since now he can read and understand so much more.


  2. This is a wonderful post...
    I've yet to address the day's events with my kids...our twins were 6 days old. I am still so tender about that day...thank you for that last line.

    I believe that, too.

    A beautifully composed post...thank you.

  3. A very beautiful and well put post Aimee. I was 4 months pregnant with my Older Son and we've never talked to him about it either. I've wondered if they will talk about it in school today. I hate to put those kinds of thoughts in his mind, but I know it must be done.
    I remember every feeling, image and horror of that day. It's something I'll never forget. And maybe we shouldn't.

  4. Good reflection, Aimee.
    On the one hand there is some distance so it's easier to think about, but it doesn't take much for me to "go to the dark place."
    I drove by a fire station yesterday and saw a fireman come out (7:00AM) and while I idled at a stop light he lowered the flag to half mast. Yup. That did me in.
    Had to turn the radio off and "get over myself."


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