Sunday, September 11, 2011

two hundred and fifty four

“Which channel?” I asked. I was twelve and it was early morning. Patti had called, she almost always called whenever she could, so 7am wasn't too unusual.

“Any channel,” I didn't understand, but I did so anyway.

The television made a familiar crackling sound as the lines warmed up and the colors appeared. I could always feel the static coming off the tv if I was close enough. The gray reflection of the room in fish-eye turned into a bright day showing a skyline city. I didn't know much about cities, or what I was looking at. Just that two enormous pillars stood before me and one was engulfed in smoke. The huge plumes baffled me. It was an enormous structure and I couldn't conceive of what had caused the smoke.

Speechless. I was so talkative and being speechless was a new phenomenon. The action movies I was so accustomed to seemed suddenly trivial and inconsiderate. There were lives lost in that building, in that fire. What was happening? Who could have done this?

I realized that Patti had hung up the phone and I was listening to a dead tone, “Dad? Dad!”

My dad came into the room, “what?” His face dropped as he watched the TV, “oh no.” He repeated it several times as if wishing the image on the screen would disappear, as if the headlines would suddenly change to April Fool's. But it wasn't April, and the television got worse.

I watched the screen as the second plane came into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It disappeared and a big ball of fire came out the side. It was surreal. The plane entered the building like a knife through butter. It was too easy. I expected the plane to come out, for the film to magically rewind itself. More smoke, more stunned commentary on the screen.

Do I go to school still? Do I still have to go? Even then I understood some enormous change was happening before my eyes. Something about how we were perceived in the world was different. Something about how we would conduct our affairs was different. Something was different.

And I watched the first tower collapse. Hollywood never prepares the mind for the real thing. Down, smoke and ashes. It was just dust and debris. What once was there, gone. And I hoped that everyone got out. That everyone was as lucky as the woman I saw on screen, running for her life, but alive. But I knew that wasn't true.

At school later, I heard the second tower had collapsed. But we continued our day of learning. School was school, and we had an obligation. The obligation was to carry on and learn; pretend that everything was the same while tacitly acknowledging everything was different. I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I think it was warm and sunny. I must have walked home alone. A stillness passed through my quiet neighborhood street.

And today I woke to the memorial service. Something important, stories of courage and loss. A nation still in shock. Families still in pain. But I carried on with my plans. The same as I always did. I went to breakfast with Adrienne and Ciera; ate a nice meal. People honked as any other day. America kept moving. I told Adrienne about a dream I had. I was a peace-keeper in a war-torn country; trying to save people from death. She replied, “that's an intense dream, you must have a lot of empathy.” I hoped she was right.

I spent a few hours with Mama; she was feeling ill and I was struck by her candor, “I have been getting tired more. I am ready to go. I am going to do it my way.” Her cancer has now spread from her lungs to her liver. She is on a steady downhill slope; spending time with her has become draining. She naps often. Our conversation drifted amongst family members, living and dead. It is sad to hear of the many lives lost in the natural course of life. She asks me if I could make her some breakfast. I cannot turn back time. I cannot hold those moments in my hand. I can only be thankful for this summer I have had with her and make the most of every moment I have left with her.

And I suppose it's the same with everyone else. Their days are not perceptibly finite, but that doesn't mean I should not savor the time. In a radically changed world one decade out, what do I hope for the future? What will I remember about that time? It won't be the politics, the economics, or the wars. It will be the sense of goodwill and unity that accompanied national tragedy. It will be the way moments together suddenly held the real weight that we always aspire to have.

In those ten years, I have grown and become an adult. The changes to the world imperceptible amongst the magnitude of my own puberty and graduation. But I know what lesson I will derive from that day. It was the courage to be magnanimous; the will to be kind; the empathy to be there when called.

I have had the luck and fortune to be there for my family this summer. I am broke and jobless, but my happiness has always derived from those around me; those I care about. And it has been my pleasure to be here with them in this changed world.