My mother called that morning, eleven years ago, waking the Helvetican and me on a rare day off. “Turn on your TV,” she said. “A plane just hit one of the twin towers.”
The first channel visible when the TV came on showed the smoke pouring from the torn side of the tower. My heart lodged in my throat. How could such a terrible thing happen? It must be an accident, a horrible, impossible accident… And then the video filled with a second plane and the horror engulfed us, watching the plane deliberately fly into the side of the second tower.
I remember wishing fiercely that I could wake up for real and escape the nightmare.
I called my best friend, with whom I’d lived in upstate New York years before. With whom I’d explored the amazing, singular borough of Manhattan. She turned on her TV as I related what I knew so far, which was little. Together, linked by the phone, we watched the towers fall and cried for the city that held such a special place in our hearts. Later, as the magnitude of the day registered, as we learned this was far bigger than New York, that it was the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania–that it was our country–the emotions grew into something encompassing and surpassing sorrow and fear. Patriotism took hold, but more than that: a binding of countrymen that gave us all strength, and, for a while, made us all better, a collective loving and lifting one another.
We live directly under the flight path for planes landing at the airport. The silence felt so wrong. I’d tuned out the sounds of jets passing overhead long ago. To have them absent spoke volumes. Days later, when the first plane finally took that path, the whine of the engines shook me. Life returned to something resembling normal with the passing of that plane, though true ‘normal’ would never really come back.
And now, we find ourselves in an election year, each side tearing down the other, politics as usual. The economy has left us with yet another semblance of normal, while, for too many, true ‘normal’ has not returned, and may never return. And on this anniversary, when we mourn those lost, when we mourn all that followed, when we rub at the scars left behind, I can’t help but wish we could have held onto that sense of love and concern for one another, as fellow Americans. I wish we could grow that again, without suffering a tragedy first.