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.