So it occurs to me that I have posted nothing original lately. Not sure why, I’m not particularly depressed. Discouraged maybe, lazy, reacting to personal slights (real or imagined), but for whatever reason I’m in a creative slump. But today is not a day to obsess about my piddly little problems. It is a day to remember 2,996 lives that were lost, to remember how the New York skyline and the Pentagon were defaced, and how we all reacted to it.
Eight years. Not a long time at all really, and yet so much has changed. Things were good between Tania and I back then, not perfect but good. I was still in school, it was the end of the summer between my BSW graduation and grad school and I was working temp jobs, just waiting until the start of my first year in my Masters program. Tania was working more than full time to put me through school, and we were a partnership.
Even though I had a freshly minted social work degree, I still found myself having to do temp jobs in warehouses that summer. I had once again joined the army of the night that unloads trucks from 10 or 11pm until the time most people are starting work. That work was tough on my then 43-year-old back, and when another temp agency called with an office job I jumped at it. It would still be working the graveyard shift, but at least I could sit down. On September 10, 2001 at 11pm I showed up at a large accounting firm to start work. We would simply be taking checks that people had sent in to pay their taxes and entering the amounts and the first four letters of the taxpayer’s names into a computer. Easy enough, boring though. The two things that kept me going were the Muzak which was fairly decent (one particular favorite was Joan Osborne’s cover of the old Gary Wright song ‘Love Is Alive’ from the 70s) and the adolescent thrill I got whenever the first four letters of someone’s name spelled something dirty (ha ha ha, his name is Dickinson).
About 5:30 in the morning Pacific Time, almost quitting time, our supervisor said that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers in NYC. Probably hijacked. I just imagined a small plane crashing into one of the windows and making a big mess, I had no concept of how horrible it really was until I got in my car and turned on the radio. It was like a gradual realization that we were under attack. I had almost no real idea of what was going on, then I had only audio, and then when I got home I could finally add the visual. I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but the first tower may have fallen before I got home.
When I did get home, the apartment was quiet. It would have been about 6:30. Tania was awake and doing her Tai Chi in the bedroom. God bless her, she still does Tai Chi every morning and it has really helped her a lot. I tried to do it with her for a while but my ADHD ass got too bored with it. We made eye contact as I passed by on my way to the TV, I tried to not let her know that the world was ending. We didn’t know anybody in New York City, I hadn’t even been to NYC (still haven’t), so I debated whether to tell her what was happening or not. I decided to let her spend her next few minutes in a peaceful place. I turned on the TV quietly. Again, I can’t remember what channel I was watching. I remember seeing one of the towers fall live, but I don’t remember if Tania was out yet or not. Eventually she came in and greeted me, asking how my first night at the new job was. I had to tell her what was happening.
We spent the rest of the morning on the couch. Our family then consisted of the two of us and a brown tabby named “Thing 2” and we all just sat there stunned. In retrospect, I imagine that the cat was less concerned than we were, but that’s how I remember it. We soon found out that there were four planes involved and for all we knew another one was heading for Los Angeles. We lived several miles northeast of LA, but still in LA county. Tania taught at a school in LA and had an appointment that day. I may have tried to be “the man” and insist that she cancel it, but I’m pretty sure it was a moot point, just about everything that could be cancelled that day was cancelled. We knew that New York and DC had been targeted, and for all we knew Chicago and LA were next.
I spent the next few days working at night entering numbers and (usually not dirty) names, wondering if life would ever be normal again, and what normal would feel like. I felt guilty that I had emerged unscathed from this event, no family or friends lost. I got in an email war with a distant cousin who had sent around an email about Muslims that I thought was racist. Tania went to a local Masjid to pray with them. We saw the best and worst of what we could be…and I’m not even going to get started on the politics. Not this time.
It was…and will always be…a day to remember, but it’s also a day that we should forget. We should forget our petty differences. We should forget about who’s lying about health care. We should forget even about who’s an American or not, we are all on this planet and borders are man made and arbitrary. For one day can we forget who has wronged us, and try to see them as God sees them? Hard to do in some cases, I know, but if it was easy we would do it every day.
For one day can we forget the chasm that lies between each of us and the person next to us, and try to connect with a sister or brother?
Can we at least try?