There is no shortage of September 11, 2001 reflections this month, and especially this weekend, on the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook and reshaped our nation. Many reflections will be deeply profound, especially those from Ground Zero. Some will be full of political and religious rhetoric. In looking back over my own journal entry for that fated day, I was struck by the entry I made just before September 11.
It’s dated July 20, 2001, and reads, in part:
It occurred to me, as I read Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World this evening, that if there is anything I want to impart to my children it is this: The world is a good place and full of wonder. It is also a dark place, full of danger and despair. So you must stand straight, and with purpose, and swing your arms with confidence as you walk. When you fall down, as you will, and when your heart breaks, as it will, you must get right up again. You must love and hope right away again, so that you can stay in the part of the world that is good and full of wonder.
My next entry was made on September 11, 2001 at 10 pm.
This morning, around 9am, an airliner was hijacked by terrorists and flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Fifteen minutes later, a second hijacked jet liner slammed into the second tower. I turned on the news, just after (my husband) called, enroute to work to report what he was hearing on the radio.
I turned on the news in time to see just taped footage of the 2nd jet swinging low at full throttle, to explode through that second tower. The next few horrendous moments left the children and me speechless. New York burned. Smoke billowed. Even now, hours later, I feel numb, speechless, the thought of all those thousands of people unsuspectingly starting another day, getting on airplanes, walking those New York canyons of seemingly unshakeable steel and concrete and, in an instant, their world, that of their families and friends, our nation, changed forever, illogically, unfathomably, incomprehensibly.
The Pentagon was struck as well, by a third plane. A fourth commandeered jet never made its target, whatever it was supposed to be, and careened instead into the ground outside Pittsburg. Dual images of smoldering Pentagon and billowing smoke plumed New York filled the television screen. Airports nationwide were closed and air traffic ceased completely.
And then we went fishing.
My father had come up from the Everglades, where he lived and worked, to visit us for a few days, and we had been planning to go to the Anclote River today. I debated briefly, then
turned off the TV and drove out with the kids to meet their grandfather. We spent the day at an idyllic spot on the river, fishing, wading, cast netting, the children exploring and happy, their confusion and fear over the television images they’d watched earlier forgotten for the time being. The skies were completely silent of aircraft, but clouds billowed and birds flew. The tide came and went. Crabs scattered. Herons stalked. A dolphin breeched near the shore.
I lay on my back on a bench and looked up at the sky between the spreading branches of a sheltering oak. I glanced across the shimmering waters of the Anclote River, its grassy shallows swept smooth by the current. All was as always, and yet never again the same. Everything’s the same and everything’s different. The trees will grow, the clouds blow, fish will school, the currents drift, the tides will change.
In Africa, among the countries of millions, the day plays out according to culture and heritage, war raging between some places, elephants wading and giraffes grazing in others. In South America, the Andes are cold, Galapagos turtles Darwin saw are cropping short grass on craggy volcanic slopes. In the Artic, chill winds blow. In Australia, cowboys mend the dingo fence. In China, a hive of life buzzes across time and history. Elsewhere in Asia, and in Europe, life and nature continue and we are just another horrible story across the sea. And here, on the bench where I lay, on the shore of the Anclote River, the sun shone brilliantly and lit a world with no visible borders from space, one enormous resource for humanity.
And yet someone, somewhere, felt compelled to do this unspeakable thing.
Before the end of the day, both towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed and the World Trade Center was gone. A third tower crumbled to the ground this afternoon. An entire wing of the Pentagon is destroyed. More than 200 people on hijacked planes are dead. Countless on the ground, in the destroyed and damaged buildings are presumed dead, including at least 200 firefighters and nearly 100 police officers. Up to 800 dead in the Pentagon. Commerce, travel, government, schools, businesses, parks are all closed, at least through tomorrow afternoon.
This is our Pearl Harbor, I told the children later. You must remember this always. These terrorists, like others before them, believed that destroying our infrastructure and the symbols of our government and greatness will destroy America, without understanding that infrastructures and symbols are just that – structures and symbols. America is an idea, an ideal, a vision, a purpose. America and being American, is a state of mind –one that can’t be destroyed. And any attempts to destroy it, materially, physically, only serve to strengthen the idea and the vision.
I’m glad we went fishing. In a sense, that might have seemed sacrilegious. But the endless news and video loops that I’ve seen since coming home this afternoon would have served only to dull the senses further, to diminish the horror through repetition. At the Anclote, I could look the terrorism in the eye and say, “As long as I live, I will choose to live indeed!” And I could mourn beneath the silence of empty skies and glittering water. I could grieve for those who longer had the choice, and rage in my heart against those who, for whatever narrow purposes, took that choice away from so many people.
And I could also appreciate the enduring world of nature, of ceaseless ants and ageless trees and timeless tides and all that endures beyond us and above the complexities of politics and religions, of things that will persevere long after we and our petty ways are gone.
I watched the children playing in the shallows, for a while longer unafraid, chasing minnows, marveling at their grandfather’s cast netting skills, still too young to fully comprehend the life changing events of the day. And my heart swelled with love and pity and hope for them that their world will be safe somehow, that I wish it could be free of fear and sorrow for them. But they live in this world, as we all do, as generations before them have, as the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians, and Sumerians and Native American’s children did, and they live for the moment, in the beauty and joy of the now that is all we really have.
None of us should live in fear, nor should we cower and tremble and cease to live as fully as we can. An event like this, of such horrific proportions, should serve only to strengthen our resolve to live more fully and richly and deeply and meaningfully than ever, with more love and compassion and conviction in what’s right and true. The only response to such a tragedy, I saw in the wind and the clouds and the children wading along the shore and the visage of my father standing firm on the bank, is to reach deep in my heart, for resolve and love and a greater passion for life and living and the hope that this passion will invest in our children the heart and will to make their world a better place.
And yet, my heart is heavy. So many dead, a nation so changed, skies so silent. I wish for my children fearless lives in this sometimes frightening world. I wish them courage, strength and the greatness of heart that it takes to be human in a sometimes unfathomably inhumane world.
Ten years later, I still wish these things for them and the power of love and hope to keep them and their generation anchored firmly in all that is good and full of wonder, and the wisdom and knowledge to be the candles in the dark of our sometimes demon haunted world.