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Remembering September 11th.

Posted Sep 11 2009 2:12pm





It seems impossible to me that it has been 7 years since September 11th, but I'm sure that the news reports are correct. These are pictures of ground zero from last summer. It's still a busy place. The thing that is most astonishing to me is that this thing happened in such close proximity to scores of other buildings. They still stand, with that gaping chasm, all that remains of the Twin Towers.

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I was still working the graveyard shift at a company called Blair, manning the telephones 7 years ago. I had come home that morning and gone to bed as usual. I jerked awake out of a sound sleep when I heard Tim running up the stairs. I remember thinking, "Why is that plane flying so low?" and immediately wondering why I would have thought such a thing even as the door flew open and Tim said, "We're being attacked." I don't believe that anything psychic was going on, but I do believe that we are all subconsciously aware, even from a sound sleep. I reckon that I heard the television news reports, even though the television never disturbed my sleep, that day or any day before, or any day since, for that matter.

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I came downstairs in my bathrobe and curled up on the couch and I watched the news that day, the images that day playing over and over and over again. The Twin Towers. The horrified people watching the buildings collapse. The stream of people walking home. The plane crash in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon. I didn't sleep at all. It was a lot to process. I remember being astonished that the high school teachers were instructed not to allow their students to watch the newscasts. History was happening and they had no access to it until later, when they had gotten home and joined the rest of the world transfixed by the events of the day. I just never understood that decision.

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I remember going to work that night, exhausted, but thinking this: The phones will be quiet tonight. Who can think about ordering clothes at a time like this? I didn't want to use one of my valuable vacation days, so I went to work. There was a woman, Kathy. She was a huge and flamboyant, dramatic woman, an expert on everything, who was holding forth in the cafeteria that this was a government plot, that she found it suspicious that no Army aircraft had tried to intercept the hijacked planes. She went on a great length about 'the plot', and expounded on the fact that suspicious activity was taking place everywhere, that our country had been infiltrated. She told about her friend who was 'in the police force' had taken part in the capture of two men of Mid-Eastern descent who were loaded down with explosives and preparing to blow up the Kinzua Dam (a local electric generating dam). Of course, that would never make the paper, she told us. Her friend explained to her that they were under orders from the government to keep this information suppressed. Usually I just let her babble to her audience, and inwardly rolled my eyes. This day however, I was cranky and tired, and it burst out of me. "Either your friend is full of shit, or you are. One of the two." She stopped talking and stared. So did everyone else. She insisted that her friend had said two terrorists tried to blow up the dam. I asked for her friend's name. She told me that she couldn't tell us, because 'she was afraid that he'd get in trouble,' reminding us that the the government itself had directed them to keep their mouths shut. I said, 'Maybe I'll just talk to the newspaper and tip them off on this big story,' (which was some bullshit of my own). I said that I was sure that they had an investigative reporter that would be glad to get the story. She began to get decidedly uncomfortable. Taking a sip of my coffee, I said, "Well. I'm pretty sure who's full of shit." I also asked her what she would have had those intercepts do? Shoot down airliners full of people? Then I took my coffee and left the suddenly quiet breakroom. There are some things that I simply cannot understand.
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Probably the most amazing thing that night at work was the volume of calls. One after another, all night long. A surprising number of them were from New Yorkers upset that they had placed orders, paid for express shipping, and did not receive the packages that were due to be delivered on September 11th. Boggled my mind. I patiently explained, over and over, that due to circumstances well beyond UPS's control, there might be some delivery delays. One customer was very insistant on knowing when he could expect that package to arrive. Incredulous, I finally said, "Have you turned on your TV today?" There was a pause. Softly he said, "Yes." And then we both cried. At the end of the phone call, he said, "I know that it sounds awful, but I just wanted to hear, from someone, that next week, or maybe the week after that, that things would be normal again. I knew that you couldn't, not really, but I just wanted to hear that." I told him that I understood.
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Things did not get back to normal, not for a long time. I remember at Christmas time taking an order from a man who placed an order for boots, and a warm coat with a hood, and gloves. He had them delivered to a restaurant. There was a tremendous amount of background noise that sounded like heavy equipment. He was having trouble hearing me as I verified the information. He explained at the end of the conversation that he worked at ground zero, and that every day he saw a homeless man getting a free meal at a restaurant that provided soup and sandwiches to the workers. He was moved to buy him warm clothing for Christmas, and had worked his plan out with the restaurant owner. He paused and then said, "You know, I used to see homeless people every day and not give them a second thought. September 11th just makes me want to be a kinder person." I told him that I understood.
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This morning, traffic was stopped as a parade of firetrucks rolled into a local cemetery holding a memorial service. A flag for each victim has been planted on a hillside. A candle for each victim lined the highway. I was moved by the sight of over 2700 flags fluttering on the hillside, but I don't attend these memorial services. I've never understood the point. I'm not into public displays of grief. I grieve on my own. All these years later, I can still cry about it. Most everyone understands.
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