Sunday, September 11, 2016

The day with the bluest sky

So fifteen years. Wow. That day when the world changed. A few weeks ago, I was searching in my filing cabinet for my eyeglass prescription, and as I pulled out the file marked "medical records," I happened to notice the one in front of it marked "maps."  As in about a dozen of the old-fashioned paper kind that haven't seen the light of day since I got my first iphone. Out of curiosity and a little nostalgia, I unfolded the first one, a streetfinder map of Manhattan that I bought for a weekend getaway with a boyfriend in early 2001. Seeing the World Trade Center buildings marked in tourist-attraction pink on that little map gave me a goose-over-my-grave feeling, and took me back.

Of course everybody who is old enough remembers exactly what they were doing that day. I was leaving my house late to drive to work (rather than take the Metro as I usually did) after an early morning meeting with a printer had been postponed. I saw the news about the first plane as I was getting ready to walk out the door. I stopped to watch, then saw the second plane hit before going into work. By the time I got to the office, the news stations were reporting that DC had been targeted as well, although the info was unclear.  My office was just three blocks from the White House, and we all stood together in a fearful huddle in the conference room wondering what was happening and what we should do. Eventually, we closed up the office and left. I gave my boss a ride home. The drive, which on a good day takes about 20 minutes, took about two and a half hours that day. Carolyn and I listened to the radio the whole way and tried to use our cell phones with little luck.

My most vivid memory of the day came later in the afternoon. After hours of watching the news unfold on TV, I decided to walk to the convenience store down the block for some diet coke. I'll never forget that walk, because it seemed so surreal to me that a day of such horror could be so perfectly beautiful. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping in the park I passed by, there was a little breeze, and the sky was a unbelievable, travel-poster-worthy shade of blue. It felt like a day for picnics, or celebrations, or a glass of wine and watching the world go by on a sidewalk cafe. It just seemed so peaceful and pretty, and yet eerily quiet and somehow so WRONG.

Ultimately it was only the first of many surreal moments that followed over the next few weeks. Seeing tanks and armed soldiers on DC street corners. Driving on the highway past the Pentagon and seeing that horrible, gaping hole. Hearing the stories of friends who had close calls, or who lost their own friends and loved ones. Fifteen years have passed, and it seems like those sad days are at once a lifetime ago, and not so very long at all.

At the time, I remember Rudy Giuliani offering a prayer at a Ground Zero memorial service. And while I can't say that I think too highly of him today, he chose the perfect sentiment for that moment -- the "Francis of Assisi" prayer, which remains beautiful and necessary to me in this crazy world that we are still in:

"Lord, make us an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."


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