Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Eve of Destruction

In remembrance of September 11th and the indelible impact it had on our country---here's a repost of our family's unique experience. Please take a moment this weekend to remember those lost, and those left behind. Never forget.

It was a Tuesday. Our twins' very first one.

That morning at home began much like the delirious days preceding it: a 7:30am awkward and anxious tandem nursing, followed by double baby burping and dual diapering. As a first-time mom, I was adrift in the new-parent paranoia and hyper analysis of every hiccup and twitch -- and yet simultaneously entranced by each finger movement and chest-inflating breath, times two.

My treks up and down the stairs were strictly limited by doctor mandate to once or twice a day. After helping tend to the morning's first baby maintenance session, my husband Scott was downstairs. In a tone I'd never heard him use before (and haven't heard him use since), a blend of tender concern and clear urgency, he yelled, "Honey, are you watching the news?" I quickly (well, as quickly as one can when maneuvering newborn twins with minimal body control) turned the television to the "Today" show. Shots of a blazing World Trade Center North Tower filled the screen.

In true Elizabeth Kubler-Rossian mode, my embarrassing, sleep-deprived first thought was that surely, the poor pilot must have been killed -- entirely in denial that the hub of American business was undoubtedly populated with unsuspecting workers already seated at their desks for the morning. The commentators were reporting the damage was likely caused by a small plane...perhaps a privately owned Cessna. Never, never did I think for a solitary second the inferno we were all beholding was an intentional impact. An intentional impact. Before that day, unimaginable.

Minutes later, as we watched, the second plane, looking nothing like a Cessna, plowed headlong into the South Tower. From upstairs I screamed, "Honey! Someone needs to call the air traffic controllers in NYC! Somehow they're misdirecting planes into the buildings...another one just hit! Another one just hit!"

Unaffected by the tag team of horror and twin-delivery intensified hormones, and nowhere near as naive as I, my husband knew to come upstairs and explain what was by then terrifyingly obvious to his -- and most other Americans' -- eyes. An attack, here in America.

Chaos and conflicting stories prevailed that morning. Tales of upwards of 50 planes unaccounted for and potentially in enemy hands. White powder delivered to government offices. Estimates of potentially 10,000 dead. Military planes being scrambled. The President was in Florida. The White House and Capitol were being evacuated. A third plane, and the Pentagon -- less than 10 miles away from my childhood home -- was in flames. The hijacked Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania...charred earth the only remnant.

Within hours, New Yorkers rapidly produced flyers with photos of smiling dads, moms, sons and daughters that were hung all over the city. They were held aloft for the television cameras so that someone, anyone, might recognize the person pictured and provide the reassuring news so prayerfully sought. News that with each passing minute was increasingly unlikely to be heard. Hope-fueled optimism reigned - and slowly, against its will, waned -- in the first 24, and 48, then 72 hours. The round-the-clock rescue efforts yielding way too few -- hardly any -- occupants for the recovery areas staffed and waiting nearby.

Those heartbreaking visuals and so many others from those days are seared forever in our minds. The disturbingly twinkly confetti-like papers afloat around the plane-pierced structures. The police and fire department vehicles with their sirens blaring and their heroes aboard, racing full-speed toward an area that survival instincts would reflexively demand one avoid. Stunned people in business suits running out of buildings. Onlookers screaming, hiding their eyes, pointing, praying, crying. Victims waving -- and then beyond comprehension, actually leaping -- from the facades of the burning buildings. A personal video from the POV of being pulled into a coffee shop to escape the billowing cloud of collapse, with the audio of "thank you, thank you, thank you." Al Qaeda training camp videos with hooded practitioners navigating overhead monkey bars. The iconic antenna atop WTC1 descending slowly into an expanding column of dust.

Then, new pictures. Emerging from the horrific aftermath, a surge of patriotism. On our near-daily drives to the pediatrician's office for twin baby weight checks, ever increasing numbers of flags hung outside homes, offices, stores and from car antennae. Business marquees no longer touted "Buy One, Get One Free" or "Help Wanted;" but instead, proclaimed "We Love You, New York," "We Will Never Forget," and "God Bless America."

The most rote of routines became less mundane. 3000+ families started September 11th as if it were any other day. Re-evaluation of even the most miniscule, theretofore taken for granted aspects of day to day life seemed in order. As I dried myself after a shower, newly acquainted with the word "Taliban," I couldn't help but imagine how grateful an Afghani woman might be for my warm, thick towel. Something that could be used for far more virtuous purpose than merely wicking away the moisture from a freshly-clean new mother. An Afghan mother might have nothing in which to swaddle her newborn baby. What if a woman in this horridly repressive culture had twins? How were those women there envisioning our lives? The concept and purpose of a burqua was (and is) difficult for me to understand. In those first days with our new babies, unashamedly, I found myself not only immodestly "uncovered," but frequently bare from the waist up. Did that mean that I, a new mother of beautiful, pure, innocent twins, would be viewed as immoral? Whorish? Incomprehensible beliefs so varied from our own...felt so very passionately, that dispassionately, murderous evil could be enacted under the misguided assignation of martyrdom.

Vividly, I remember my thankfulness, that amongst so many other blessings -- in positioning the twins to nurse, they were facing me...and not the future-altering images that filled the TV screen. As an adult, as an American, as a mother, it was my obligation to face those images...and to mourn with those who were mourning.

Yet amidst the devastation, the molten towers' girders seemed to find reincarnate solidity in heroes whose stories began to emerge -- and continue to emerge today.

Forever linked to our family's personal history, Scott and I pay rapt attention annually to the documentaries, the interviews, the tributes. Each September, our emotions careen from giddy celebration on the 5th, to grave solemnity on the 11th. Then, we move on. Always remembering. Forever united, a family...micro and macro.

Gratitude. Grief. Grace.
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6 comments:

Terra said...

Cheryl, this was brilliantly written. Such a day. Such a day. Thank you for sharing your story.

Krissy said...

Thank you for writing this Cheryl.

Like the rest of America, I remember exactly where I was...working at an adult day center, pouring coffee and greeting the older adults as they arrived. Good Morning America was on in the background.

We watched in stunned horror as the second plane crashed, and quickly turned off the tv. Many of our older folks had varying forms of confussion and memory loss, and we needed to shield them from such a horrific event.

We were less than 50 miles away from the plane that crashed in Somerset County, PA. I couldn't understand why the families weren't coming for their loved ones...the staff was taking turns huddling around a tiny TV in the library watching the news, and it all seemed so close to where we were. I was still in college and wanted nothing more than to check on my family.

Having recently obtained my EMT license, I internally wrestled with the idea of packing up my junker car and heading to NYC, a place I had never been before. Eventually the very real risk of a vehicle breakdown, coupled with the obvious outpouring of support in the form of medical professionals kept me away from New York.

What was a girl to do? I prayed, I took as good of care of the people at work as I could, and I hung an American flag out of my apartment window, which turned into a huge argument with the apartment owners who told me it was against policy to hang anything out of the window. Needless to say, we had words.

I can not even fathom the fear that would have been present having just welcommed those two precious babes into your world...

Thanks for the chance to remember.

Carrie said...

This was beautiful. I sometimes forget that our children won't know America before 9-11, so they don't know how much it changed America.

I was a college junior on my way to an environmental studies class when the first plane hit. When the second hit I was probably discussing the food chain or petting my professor's Golden Retriever, Shwilly, who followed him to all his classes. I spent the next hours and days huddled with my sorority sisters in our house watching the news and waiting for friends and family to call. A sister who hadn't made it into work yet who worked in the 1st tower. A father who was travelling out of Boston whose plane, thankfully, was not one involved.

They say every generation has a defining moment. I just pray that the defining moment for our children isn't one that was born out of that kind of hatred. I pray their moment that changes our world so dramatically comes from a far more loving place.

Barbara Manatee said...

Such a powerful post Cheryl. I got chills reading it (again...I remember you posting this a year or two ago).

I will surely never forget that day. It was my 2nd year teaching. We were on our way to gym class when our PE teacher told us we had to stay inside b/c of planes crashing all over the place. We had so little info and we were not allowed to turn on radios or TVs in the school so we didn't alarm the students.

My oldest brother was on a US Navy aircraft carrier, somewhere in the Pacific, on the way home from a 6 month tour. We weren't sure if he would make it home (thankfully the ship will in ill repair and they had to return to port). My other brother, a fire fighter, waited for the call and was ready and willing to go to NYC to help. My friend in the classroom next door was frantic as her sister was a flight attendant & in the air that day. Another friend's cousin lived in Manhattan and she tried desperately to get a hold of her.

I remember trying to get home that day. Talking to my hubby on the phone the whole way. Waiting forever to get gas. Fighting traffic. Getting home and being glued to the TV. Searching store after store to find a flag to hang. The one from the newspaper the next day stayed in the front window until it was so faded it just looked white.

Many generations have a major, historic moment they'll never forget like Kennedy's assassination...The Challenger...9-11.

We will never forget.

Sugar Boogers & Tantrums said...

Wow! That was an awesome read! Very beautifully written. I will "never" forget! It was one of the most tragic things I had ever been through in my entire life and I still grieve for the families that lost their loved ones that day.

Dianna@KennedyAdventures said...

I'm always amazed at the power and beauty of your writing -- thank you for this post.

I was working nights at the time, and slept all day Tues - I knew nothing until I was on the road to work, and noted EVERY gas station on the way to work with lines for miles.

I walked into work, made a comment about the gas stations, then gasped as people filled me in on the details. The rest of the night, I watched as replay after replay filled every station. I was so sad, and wanted to be anywhere but at the hospital.