Saturday, September 13, 2008

Remembering September 11

Every American over twelve years old remembers what he or she was doing on the beautiful Indian-summer morning of September 11, 2001. For our family, it was a time of transition, a time of anxiety and hard physical work. We were moving that week out of our home of ten years located near Balboa Park in one of the older neighborhoods of San Diego. Keith had lovingly restored our 1914 Craftsman home, tearing off the back third of the house and rebuilding a gorgeous, sun-filled kitchen with a breakfast nook, a laundry area, and a master bedroom and bath. besides tearing down the old plaster of the other two bedrooms and refinishing with drywall and fresh paint, he also refinished the 50-year-old oak floors which he matches perfectly with new oak in the addition area. After a completely new roof and work on the block foundation, the house was painted a lovely grey with burgundy and white trim, and I re-landscaped the flower beds with lavender and roses, hollyhocks and wildflowers. We were leaving a labor of love behind but looking forward to our new home, a mountain cabin at the edge of pristine meadowlands, surrounded on all sides by mountains, with half an acre for our boys to run and play. After living for years in the city, Keith and I were both glad to return with our family to rural roots, how we ourselves had grown up in San Diego County.

Past midnight on September 10, Keith and I were finishing the packing and the cleaning before picking up our four sleepy kids (ages 9, 6, 4, and 18 months) from my parents' place and driving to Mount Laguna. My parents had a small 600 sq. ft. cabin on top of the mountain where we were planning to live for a week or so until we could move into our new mountain home in Pine Valley, at the base of the mountain. By 2 AM we were settling sleeping children into beds and sleeping bags and tumbled into bed ourselves around 3 AM.

At 6 AM, my dad called us, in tears as he related the news of the 9-11 attacks. We were out of bed in an instant, trying frantically to tune in a news station on the unreliable "rabbit ears" that was our only way of gaining a TV signal. We could tune in fuzzy images only, but through the static, we could see what was happening -- just as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. The kids slept on, exhausted by their interrupted sleep, while Keith and I watched what we could through the fuzz, listening more than watching most of the time. As the morning wore on, Keith got ready and left for work, and I took care of the kids, watching what I could -- learning of the Pentagon attack, and of the crash in the fields of Pennsylvania. I watched as the President visibly blanched when the news was whispered into his ear during a visit to a Florida school. As all flights were grounded, I wondered where my brother, a pilot, was; at least he didn't fly for the airlines that had been hijacked. I remember sitting in the red upholstered chair, listening and trying to make out images from fuzzy TV signal as I nursed B. Brushing my finger along his cheek, I thought of all the children who had lost a parent this day. I prayed, tears running down my cheek.

This week as the poetry class I'm facilitating for Brave Writer started, I asked the families to start our adventure of poetry with some song lyrics. Remembering those days after 9-11, three songs come to mind: U2's "Beautiful Day" and "Walk On" and Sting's "Fragile." The latter is the one I taught this week in memory of the attacks in 2001. Although it was written before 9-11, it was actually recorded in the UK on the very date of the attacks, and I think they are a fitting response to the nightmarish events of that day. We are all fragile, just bone and sinew held together by soul. Although it takes so little to destroy a human, it requires a great deal more to remove humanity from the hearts and minds that planned and committed these horrendous acts.

By Sting

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay

Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence
And nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are How fragile we are

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