Remembering 9/11: We are all together. Still.

This post was originally published September 11, 2010.

I finished my morning run on the dike, and walked to the car under deep blue skies.  The air carried the first smells of fallen leaves.  I unlocked the door, got in and took a drink of water before starting the car.  The radio greeted me with a special announcement rather than the music of Mozart or Beethoven.  This was the before moment.  Then there was after.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center.  No.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

My cellphone rang and I answered, relieved to ramble with my brother about the certainty that these were terrorist attacks.  Who? What? Why?  And as we spoke, he cried, “Oh, my god! Something just hit T.C. Williams High School! Oh, my god! I will have to call you right back!”  And the phone went dead.

I drove home, in stunned silence, the radio serving as my companion through the next fifteen minutes.  National Public Radio hosts reported the Pentagon strike, and I thought of my brothers, the one coping with hearing the Pentagon’s explosion on his way to work, the other already in the Ronald Reagan Building near the National Mall.  What now?  Were they safe?  Was there more to come?

Oh, my god!  Perry! His office was just blocks from the World Trade Center! I checked in with my sister-in-law…he was so far safe.

I got home to speak with my house painters, who found it hard to concentrate as they applied one more coat to my trim. Their radio announced the Shanksville crash and they finally just climbed off their ladders.  We took turns sharing what we knew, breaking to call more family as we thought of one more person that might be stuck in DC or New York or Pittsburgh.   And then…

Silence in the skies.

It was still that perfect blue sky, with wispy clouds, sweetly fragrant with first fall smells. But it was so still.

My son called home to report that he had forgotten his trumpet and the band instructor would just KILL him if I didn’t bring it down real, real soon.  That was my moment of Can Do: we must be resolute, take this in stride, aid those who are hurt, show our children just how we Americans handle disaster.  I picked up that trumpet, got into that car, and headed into town, through the mountain pass along Toby’s Creek.  The valley opened up with those beautiful Poconos on the other side, the highway straightened out, cars picked up speed.  Just as I hit that 55mph there was a highway construction sign, the kind that can be programed for all sorts of alert messages.  Today instead of providing a heads up about construction it flashed:  All Roads to NYC CLOSED.

Up to that moment some part of my brain still said that this morning was a dream. That we had all just misheard the news.  But that pixelated message struck me with a ferocity.  We have been attacked.  We must learn to live and create now in fear’s midst.

I didn’t see the towers fall, I was too busy being resolute and determined to act with courage and be a rock for my children.  The trumpet was delivered and my child stayed in school all day.  Just like any other day.  My daughter stayed in school, with her classmates slowly being pulled out by anxious parents.  While they went through the motions of normality I found the nearest Red Cross Bloodmobile and joined dozens of Back Mountain residents giving blood for New Yorkers, who would never need it.

I continued the normal routine, which included cello lessons, and the children and I talked a bit along the way about what had happened and what we were feeling.  Keep going, I thought, just keep going.  Cellos got played and packed up–clack, clack, clack, clack went the latches of their cases.  We piled into our van and headed into the dusk.  The car seemed to drive itself to our church; I certainly had not intended to go.  But I had a sudden, overpowering need to be in community.  No one noticed or cared that we entered the crowded service very late.  We were all together, that is all that mattered.

The sun had come up and crossed a brilliant blue sky, and now it set in the same place as before.  East was still east and west was still west. But our moral compass as America had just been put to a huge test.  How would it survive?  How would we survive?

We were together.  We are together.  That is all that matters.  Still.

A Tribute To Gunner: Remembering September 11, 2001

Not too long ago I met a story.  While walking my dog I stopped to wish a neighbor well with his move.  He waved thanks and kept walking toward his house, and the fellow taping up boxes looked up and beamed.  I thought he was grateful for the coffee approaching in my neighbor’s hand until he exclaimed “Puppy!”  Tall, lean, with a ponytail in back, this fifty-something man walked over, said hi to me, then crouched to say hello to Cappy.  I call this the working hello and I know that the person greeting my dog not only likes dogs but works hard to understand and communicate with them. In this relaxed fall morning a story unfolded.

Dave got his first work dog as a young Vietnam soldier. When this pup was shot literally from underneath him, he was given another to train and work.  “War dogs you don’t get too attached to. They are there to do a job.  You’re eighteen, away from home, and you love them, but you don’t get too attached.”  That’s how Dave became involved with civilian search and rescue teams.

In the 1990′s Dave was employed as a veterinary assistant in an Atlanta Emergency Clinic.  One morning he found a young stray tied to the clinic door, with two broken legs and a ruptured spleen.  The doctors for whom he worked didn’t believe in euthanizing if they felt there was a reasonable chance of saving an animal.  They did their magic, and then it was Dave’s turn to do his.  In caring for this nine month old pup Dave recognized that special blend of courage, smarts, loyalty, and desire to please that search and rescue work requires.  He put in a call to a buddy at the nearby military base and soon the flat-coated black lab graduated third of thirty in the search and rescue training program.

“Gunner was my soul-mate.  He was so special.  There are forty-two people on this earth, walking around today, because he found them.  Special.  We were there after 9/11.  Gunner was amazing.  There was too much noise at the site.  I could only use hand signals.  I’d send Gunner out; at thirty feet he would stop and wait for my command.  I would move my hand.”  At this Dave held out his right arm and, with his index and third fingers extended, he made a small horizontal wave.

“Then Gunner would start his zigzag pattern back toward me, sniffing. That’s how they teach them to search a grid.  When they find someone alive, the dog is trained to jump up and down and make a lot of noise. When they find a body or body part they sit.  We went to search and rescue, and of course you know it turned out to be all recovery.  Gunner would go out, search and sit.  Search and sit. He found 30 intact bodies.  Thirty! Out of 300 that means my Gunner found ten percent of the bodies recovered.  Everything else was an arm here, a hand.”  Dave paused. He retired Gunner after that mission was complete, and they traveled together on Dave’s new job as a mover. Gunner succumbed to cancer in 2008.

”He was my soul mate. The dog to replace him hasn’t been born.”

Here’s to all those brave teams of men and women and dogs, who tirelessly searched for days and days through the rubble of the Towers.

Here’s to all those brave teams yet to be created, who will go out again and again, anytime there is tragedy, risking their lives so others may live, or find peace of mind.

Remembering Nine Eleven

This post was originally published September 11, 2010.

I finished my morning run on the dike, and walked to the car under deep blue skies.  The air carried the first smells of fallen leaves.  I unlocked the door, got in and took a drink of water before starting the car.  The radio greeted me with a special announcement rather than the music of Mozart or Beethoven.  This was the before moment.  Then there was after.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center.  No.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

My cellphone rang and I answered, relieved to ramble with my brother about the certainty that these were terrorist attacks.  Who? What? Why?  And as we spoke, he cried, “Oh, my god! Something just hit T.C. Williams High School! Oh, my god! I will have to call you right back!”  And the phone went dead.

I drove home, in stunned silence, the radio serving as my companion through the next fifteen minutes.  National Public Radio hosts reported the Pentagon strike, and I thought of my brothers, the one coping with hearing the Pentagon’s explosion on his way to work, the other already in the Ronald Reagan Building near the National Mall.  What now?  Were they safe?  Was there more to come?

Oh, my god!  Perry! His office was just blocks from the World Trade Center! I checked in with my sister-in-law…he was so far safe.

I got home to speak with my house painters, who found it hard to concentrate as they applied one more coat to my trim. Their radio announced the Shanksville crash and they finally just climbed off their ladders.  We took turns sharing what we knew, breaking to call more family as we thought of one more person that might be stuck in DC or New York or Pittsburgh.   And then…

Silence in the skies.

It was still that perfect blue sky, with wispy clouds, sweetly fragrant with first fall smells. But it was so still.

My son called home to report that he had forgotten his trumpet and the band instructor would just KILL him if I didn’t bring it down real, real soon.  That was my moment of Can Do: we must be resolute, take this in stride, aid those who are hurt, show our children just how we Americans handle disaster.  I picked up that trumpet, got into that car, and headed into town, through the mountain pass along Toby’s Creek.  The valley opened up with those beautiful Poconos on the other side, the highway straightened out, cars picked up speed.  Just as I hit that 55mph there was a highway construction sign, the kind that can be programed for all sorts of alert messages.  Today instead of providing a heads up about construction it flashed:  All Roads to NYC CLOSED.

Up to that moment some part of my brain still said that this morning was a dream. That we had all just misheard the news.  But that pixelated message struck me with a ferocity.  We have been attacked.  We must learn to live and create now in fear’s midst.

I didn’t see the towers fall, I was too busy being resolute and determined to act with courage and be a rock for my children.  The trumpet was delivered and my child stayed in school all day.  Just like any other day.  My daughter stayed in school, with her classmates slowly being pulled out by anxious parents.  While they went through the motions of normality I found the nearest Red Cross Bloodmobile and joined dozens of Back Mountain residents giving blood for New Yorkers, who would never need it.

I continued the normal routine, which included cello lessons, and the children and I talked a bit along the way about what had happened and what we were feeling.  Keep going, I thought, just keep going.  Cellos got played and packed up–clack, clack, clack, clack went the latches of their cases.  We piled into our van and headed into the dusk.  The car seemed to drive itself to our church; I certainly had not intended to go.  But I had a sudden, overpowering need to be in community.  No one noticed or cared that we entered the crowded service very late.  We were all together, that is all that mattered.

The sun had come up and crossed a brilliant blue sky, and now it set in the same place as before.  East was still east and west was still west. But our moral compass as America had just been put to a huge test.  How would it survive?  How would we survive?

We were together.  We are together.  That is all that matters.  Still.

Remembering 9/11

I finished my morning run on the dike, and walked to the car under deep blue skies.  The air carried the first smells of fallen leaves.  I unlocked the door, got in and took a drink of water before starting the car.  The radio greeted me with a special announcement rather than the music of Mozart or Beethoven.  This was the before moment.  Then there was after.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center.  No.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

My cellphone rang and I answered, relieved to ramble with my brother about the certainty that these were terrorist attacks.  Who? What? Why?  And as we spoke, he cried, “Oh, my god! Something just hit T.C. Williams High School! Oh, my god! I will have to call you right back!”  And the phone went dead.

I drove home, in stunned silence, the radio serving as my companion through the next fifteen minutes.  National Public Radio hosts reported the Pentagon strike, and I thought of my brothers, the one coping with hearing that explosion on his way to work, the other already in some building near the National Mall.  What now?  Were they safe?  Was there more to come?

Oh, my god!  Perry! In New York’s financial district! I checked in with my sister-in-law…he was so far safe.

I got home to speak with my house painters, who found it hard to concentrate, and then the plane went down in Pennsylvania! They finally just climbed off their ladders.  We took turns sharing what we knew, breaking to call more family as we thought of one more person that might be stuck in DC or New York or Pittsburgh, and then sharing where everyone was and how they were.  And then…

Silence in the skies.

It was still that perfect blue sky, with wispy clouds, sweetly fragrant with first fall smells. But it was so still.

My son called home to report that he had forgotten his trumpet and the band instructor would just KILL him if I didn’t bring it down real, real soon.  That was my moment of Can Do: we must be resolute, take this in stride, aid those who are hurt, show our children just how we Americans handle disaster.  I picked up that trumpet, got into that car, and headed into town, through the mountain pass along Toby’s Creek.  The valley opened up with those beautiful Poconos on the other side, the highway straightened out, cars picked up speed.  Just as I hit that 55mph there was a highway construction sign, the kind that can be programed for all sorts of alert messages.  Today instead of providing a heads up about construction it flashed:  All Roads to NYC CLOSED.

Up to that moment some part of my brain still said that this morning was a dream. That we had all just misheard the news.  But that pixelated message struck me with a ferocity.  We have been attacked.  We must learn to live and create now in fear’s midst.

I didn’t see the towers fall, I was too busy being resolute and determined to act with courage and be a rock for my children.  The trumpet was delivered and my child stayed in school all day.  Just like any other day.  My daughter stayed in school, with her classmates slowly being pulled out by anxious parents.  While they went through the motions of normality I found the nearest Red Cross Bloodmobile and joined dozens of Back Mountain residents giving blood for New Yorkers, who would never need it.

I continued the normal routine, which included cello lessons, and the children and I talked a bit along the way about what had happened and what we were feeling.  Keep going, I thought, just keep going.  Cellos get played, get packed up–clack, clack, clack, clack went the latches of their cases.  We piled into our van and headed into the dusk.  The car seemed to drive itself to our church; I certainly had not intended to go.  But I had a sudden, overpowering need to be in community.  No one noticed or cared that we entered the crowded service very late.  We were all together, that is all that mattered.

The sun had come up and crossed a brilliant blue sky, and now it set in the same place as before.  East was still east and west was still west. But our moral compass as America had just been put to a huge test.  How would it survive?  How would we survive?

We were together.  We are together.  That is all that matters.  Still.