Today looks no different from yesterday
but against the backdrop of a blue September sky
we will now remember the loss of our innocence.
September 11 was a blur of images and fears and unknowns, and for me it wasn’t until September 12 dawned and brightened into another seemingly perfect September day, blue sky and all, that what had happened, and the permanent change it brought, really settled in.
I was in my back yard that morning, in my garden painting a few chairs with a new coat of white paint and picking tomatoes under that perfect blue dome of sky, warm sunshine washing down, listening to my radio. It was the heart of the harvest season in my little garden and time go get ready for coming winter, nothing was going to stand in the way of the hour or two I took each morning for such normal tasks as that in my little peaceful kingdom.
Not even the news of the first plane. The vegetables were in, and I just kept on painting the chair and didn’t even check the time, thinking I’d hear on the news later about the small plane that had trouble navigating and bumped into a skyscraper.
When heard a second plane hit a little after nine, and my local NPR station immediately went to live news, I knew before I heard the speculations that it had been planned as an attack of some sort on the United States, just one of those flashes of intuition that happen before we know it, and I immediately began to doubt myself and ask what made me think I knew such things.
I continued the chair painting with much less self-assurance, thinking I should stop and clean up, get ready for whatever might happen even though this had happened in New York, so far away, but everything seemed suddenly slightly askew.
Then I heard that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.
And then a jet flew overhead, a little low, a little loud, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It was those primordial hackles that rise in us humans when we feel a threat that rides outside our logical thought process, cultured by a lifestyle that protects us from threats to our individual lives. I was done with the chair anyway. I felt the need to clean up and get prepared. For what, I didn’t know. I just knew that something was very wrong, and that jet had had something to do with it.
Jets fly overhead all the time. I have lived in the flight path for Pittsburgh International Airport all my life and close enough to an Air Force base and not only do they fly overhead, they circle and slow down and make noise and fly at crazy angles as they come in for a landing. A noisy plane flying low overhead is something I didn’t even notice. But two planes had just hit the two towers of the World Trade Center and a third had hit the Pentagon, and I had felt a distinct malevolence in that plane. I suddenly noticed that the sky was very quiet for that time of the morning. I hurried inside, no longer feeling safe under that warm blue sky.
I heard that a plane had crashed in Somerset County, just east of me.
I thought of my mother in her home about a mile and a half away, just back from several months in various hospitals after lung cancer surgery that unexpectedly nearly killed her. She was still weak and needed daily assistance for most activities, many prescriptions and home oxygen. If all this was suddenly disrupted, what would I do? Should I go to her house now? Should I try to get her to a more secure place, like a hospital?
And my brother was in a nursing home 30 miles north of me, continuing his recovery from a traumatic brain injury the previous year, also requiring a lot of daily care, medications and supervision. Should I try to move him closer? What if I couldn’t get to him? My receptors for imminent tragedy were wide awake after these two unexpected incidents that had caught me completely off-guard.
Anyone else would have run for the television, but I didn’t have one then, and I don’t have one now, so I never got to see the very first images that showed up on CNN that morning, heard the fear in the newscasters’ voices. I listened to the reporters describing the events on my radio, feeling calmer listening to their words and being able to move around my house than I would have being trapped in front of a television.
Did any of us know what to do in those first hours and days, even those of us so far from the terrible scenes of death and destruction more horrible than we could imagine?
The next day, with travel restricted, was so perfectly beautiful but so eerily quiet, and so strange that we didn’t have any more of our questions answered, or know the extent of the damage and death as it was still unfolding in all three areas. And yet those perfect September days continued to belie how our lives had changed.