When we came together

 I photographed this memorial wall at FDNY Engine 10 Ladder 10,  directly across from Ground Zero, May 2007.

I photographed this memorial wall at FDNY Engine 10 Ladder 10,
directly across from Ground Zero.  New York City,  May 2007

“Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.”  —  John Kerry

On September 11, 2001, we were living in northern California.  My clock radio came on as usual at 6:00 a.m., and the first words I heard were “an airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”  I immediately began praying for the airline pilots I knew, but even in my still-sleepy brain fog, I knew that this was no typical accident.

Jeff came in a few minutes later (he always rose an hour earlier than I did) and told me there had been two plane crashes, one into each tower. “It’s terrorists,” I said.

“It surely sounds like it,” he agreed.  We speculated briefly as to what this might mean, and how his day would unfold if some sort of attack were in progress.  “I might not be home at the usual time tonight,” he predicted.

A few minutes later I was in the bathroom helping Matt clean his orthodontic retainers when Drew came to tell me Eric had called.  “He said to tell you he’s safe, and to advise you not to go into the city today,  especially not the Golden Gate Bridge.  He said they might be going after all the big targets.”

A short time later Jeff called to confirm what we had suspected; he would not be home at the usual time that night, and in fact, he didn’t know when he would be home.  From past military exercises, I knew I might not be told where he was or when to expect him to come back home.

A short while later, Gloria called.  “I just wanted to hear your voice,” she said.

While the details may differ, I suppose similar communications were taking place all over America.  People calling to let others know they were safe, to worry about what might come next, and to seek reassurance by sharing the shock with someone we trusted.

Many people of my age or older almost invariably felt a haunting memory of November 22, 1963, the only other date when we remembered anything as shocking and frightening.  For our parents’ generation, many remembered December  7, 1941.  But absolutely none of us could remember anything on this scale.  It’s not an overstatement to say that we were all changed in some way by that day, some of us more than others.

If John Kerry was right about the day bringing out the best in us, I’d like to think that “best” is still there, though dormant; that we could come together as one if anything so catastrophic should ever happen again.  But why does it take catastrophe to bring out the best in us?

Today is a grim anniversary,  but rather than re-living the horror and sadness, perhaps we can try to reenact the compassion and urgency we felt to reach out to others and let them know that we cared.  Is it possible to remember the lessons of that day’s trauma and heartbreak even in the relative normalcy that we may (or may not) experience today?

Today I wish you a gloriously typical day in which nothing unexpected happens.  But even if that wish comes true, I hope you will reach out to a loved one or neighbor with the understanding that was so forcefully thrust upon us thirteen years ago: life is short, unpredictable and sometimes very difficult.  Let’s be there for each other.

One year ago today:

The people weeping

31 Comments

  1. Good morning, Julia!
    As I considered your photo and caption this morning, a strange feeling came over me. Even if the terrorists had suspected that 9/11 would draw the nation together in ways unprecedented here before, I doubt that they knew that they would be giving us a new place to ever remind us of our solidarity, a place that ever after will be known as “Ground Zero.” We didn’t have a nationally recognized Ground Zero before. Now we do, and for many of us, Ground Zero is a symbol of heros, bravery, and faith in the face of evil, pain, and suffering.
    It makes me proud to be an American, because our ground zero stands for such nobility of character.
    Thank you for your blog, and all of the wonderful concepts and feelings that it triggers.

    • Thank you Susan, I appreciate your kind words about the blog. I am eager to see the WTC site now that everything has been rebuilt. I hope we will get to go to NYC again sometime soon. With all the mourning over loss of life after 9/11, I also felt deep sadness at losing the Twin Towers, which seems strange since they were “only” buildings, but they were my favorite place to visit in Manhattan. They were the first place I would go during several visits there after I saw them for the first time in 1974, not long after they were built. You are right, that location will always be a reminder to us, of all that we have (and all that we may lose at a moment’s notice), and still more, all that can never be taken away from us.

  2. rayanard

    Julia a Side note. I can remember being in school when Martin Luther King was killed. I learned a new word a couple of months ago. Revisionist, people who want to rewrite history. You cant write what you cant control. Why should I be ashamed to live in a place where I was blessed with so much? I’ve been overseas where people have alot less and i’m not talking about material things. On that note, I was born and raised in NYC, ‘The Greatest City ‘in the World and that is a blessing in itself.. I pray that my life lived everyday for him, is brighter than the lights on the new World Trade Center to give hope to all that gave up hope of a better day and ” brighter tomorrow. Be blessed

    • Raynard, having grown up in Atlanta, I too can recall the murder of Dr. King. There was much fear that his hometown would erupt in the riots that disturbed over 100 other cities that horrible week, but in Atlanta, though the shock and grief were tremendous, all remained peaceful. It was a fitting tribute to his legacy of nonviolence. There where his influence was strongest among those who knew him best, they saw to it that his funeral was surrounded with dignity and calm. I read later that there was not a single incident of violence associated with his funeral in Atlanta, despite the many thousands who marched at his funeral. I will always remember that week. Atlanta will always be my hometown. You are right in saying that growing up in NYC is a great blessing too. There truly is nowhere like it on earth. I appreciate your lovely thought in the last sentence. Shine on my friend!

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    Drew’s report of my words for you were very different than the words I exchanged with a young airline pilot’s wife. She called for reassurance – her husband had been stranded by the uunprecedented grounding of the nation’s air transportation system.
    “This is big,” I told her, “It will mean we will go after Saddam Hussein.”
    (many other words ensued as she became more agitated)
    She had the last words of that phone conversation: “I wish I hadn’t have called you.”
    Sometimes the “reaching out” does not bring the result we seek. Sometimes it is, at best, grossly inadequate.

    • Giving reassurance is definitely something that some people are better at than others. I fear I am not very good at it myself. However, you did what you could, and sometimes there is little reassurance to be given. Even when we are sharing tragedy, it still feels better not to be alone. Sometimes it’s helpful just to listen to people’s agitation and let them talk. I always hate it when I have been talking to someone and feel as if they feel worse after talking with me than they did before. But even when reaching out does not produce the warm fuzzy result we want, I still think it’s better not to withdraw into silence. Maybe we should practice phrases to say for when we don’t know what else to say. Things such as “I don’t know what to say, except that I’m here and I care.” One of the greatest gifts our Mama ever gave me was when I called to tell her about one of Matt’s unexpected and upsetting hospitalizations – she just started to cry (for only about the 5th time I have ever known her to do so in my whole life) and said “that poor boy, he has been through so much.” Not really reassuring, but there was endless love that came through, and it was a comfort.

  4. singleseatfighterpilot

    Not unlike the impending threat of the Roman General, Titus, against First Century Jerusalem – Luke 21:10-36

    • Eric, this comment was made in response to the “hacked” comment which was actually from Daddy who was using his computer that I had left signed on to WordPress. Wow, just think of all the interesting posts he could have been sending out under my name! If you get my drift!!! 😀

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Not from the Bible, but nevertheless some good comparisons are at http://emergingcivilwar.com/2011/09/12/forgetting-911-and-the-lesson-of-antietam/

        • Yes, this article is very pertinent to the current situation. How easy it is to disregard and disrespect what is not in front of our eyes. Thanks for sharing this. It adds perspective to the photo I posted recently, that was taken after Antietam.

  5. Michael

    I give thanks today for service persons past and present, firefighters and police. All those who serve and those who wait.
    What is the famous hymn-” Grant us courage for the coming of this hour.” God of grace and God glory…?”
    Also what is the famous line- It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.” Dickens?
    Also I did not realize till recently that in the original attack plan for 8 planes- the 70 story Columbia tower in Seattle was also a target.

    • Michael, my brother could tell you some interesting stories about what may have become of those original attack plans. Suffice it to say that they did “dry run” attempts to smuggle things onto aircraft and otherwise “case” the whole operation, and not all of the airlines or planes they did a trial run on passed their tests as being good targets for sabotage. Or at least, that’s my understanding based on what I read later, which was pretty chilling when matched with stories I had heard from flight personnel about things that happened shortly before the attacks. Let’s just say not everyone was as shocked by what happened as most of the rest of us were.

      That hymn you mention is one of my favorites, and here is the best verse, in my opinion:

      “Cure Thy children’s warring madness;
      Bend our pride to Thy control.
      Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
      Rich in things and poor in soul.
      Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
      Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.” (Fosdick, 1930).

      Wow, how timely, though it was written in 1930! Yes, it was Dickens who said “best of times, worst of times” — the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, my favorite of his novels except for A Christmas Carol.

  6. Carlyle

    It is a terrible thing to contemplate but it is a sad fact that it may require another catastrophic attack on our homeland to end the war-weary apathy which divides and weakens us.

    One spokesman for ISIS, commenting on President Obama’s upcoming address said in effect, ” Let him say what he is going to do. I will tell you we are going to hit you hard and soon”

    • Thanks Daddy, I am glad to know you are the author of this mystery comment! 😀 It is scary indeed but as you say, we need to stick together now, whether or not there is any terrorist catastrophe in the making. I have no doubt that the polarization of the voters plays directly into the hands of those who wish our country ill.

      OK everyone, the mystery is at an end and I was NOT hacked…however, I learned an important lesson which all bloggers might need to bear in mind. When I am on the road, I almost always use other computers (in hotels or wherever I am staying) to update the comments. I had always assumed that closing the browser would sign out of the admin page of my blog…WRONG!!! In this case, thank goodness it was my father’s computer, but I only found it out when he signed in to read and comment. This means, theoretically, that any computer I’ve ever used to access this blog will be signed in FOREVER and if someone calls up the blog for any reason, they will be signed in as me! So if you read any comments that sound too smart, too sophisticated or generally NOT LIKE ME, let me know! 😀 😀 😀 — the lesson here is, ALWAYS SIGN OUT OF YOUR BLOG when using a borrowed computer – I should have realized it does not sign out automatically!

  7. Carolyn

    I remember what I was doing that morning. I was waiting for David to bring Nicole to me, I got her ready for Mother’s Day out. I was watching when the second plane hit the tower. What a morning we all had. Nicole was to young to understand what was going on, but she did see the burning towers. She was okay but I was sick thinking about all the lives that was going to be lost. I wish we could come together as a nation today like we did then. Prayers for all families who lost love ones that day. Love to all.

    • Thank you Carolyn. I do wish we could remember the unity of those first few weeks after the shock and horror, though I pray we never go through anything like that again. I think, as my father said, we are all so jaded and worn out from all these wars for so many years, not unlike the way we were at the end of the Vietnam war. Thank goodness the veterans are not being subject to the sort of treatment those who returned from Vietnam. It was so great to see you recently! You and Terry are looking so good and it was wonderful to be together again.

  8. Jack

    My company had business interests in Kuwait and I was bound for there, an hour or so from landing when the first plane hit the tower. Immigration told me some horrible and inaccurate version of events repeated by our business partner as he drove me to my hotel; I turned on the news right as the second tower was coming down. I couldn’t call home, couldn’t send an email and at the time was traveling so much that my wife rarely asked me to where I was destined, for we had four young children she was busy with. She called my office and a pretty anxious 48 hours ensued for her…I, on the other hand was comfortably ensconced in a 5 star hotel, angry but ok.

    But the touching part, the part that stirs up and confuses me still was what happened the next day. Most of the people with whom we did business were wealthy Arabs, and in our first meeting the following day, three separate guys apologized to me for what had happened. Each also told me that they had family in NYC and not only could they not get in touch with them, but they we’re rightly fearful for their safety when the fear became anger at home. I’ve been bothered for many years on the one hand by my visceral, vengeful thoughts toward a generalized, stereotyped people that could do such a thing, but then seeing only a person eye to eye, knowing they were as confused about me as I them. Hating a people is pretty easy, hating a person much different.

    And the next day I went to Paris, finally got in touch with my wife and understood very clearly her reaction as I recounted my tale of woe from the Hotel Regina. She wasn’t nearly as impressed with my existential troubles as I. Women are funny that way:)!

    • Jack, you make a very good point here. It’s one reason why I think it is so vital for us to get to know one another as human beings. Each of us has probably been on the receiving end of some kind of prejudice or discrimination at some point, and there are few things more frightening, frustrating and/or demoralizing. Plus it hurts to see good people who are hated because of what someone else does or did. Some war movies, such as Empire of the Sun, bring home the deep sadness that results when we find out our friends are supposed to be our enemies.

      In high school, I was active in a club called American Field Service, which sponsored exchange students. We had an exchange student from Iran visiting our school on her way back to Tehran from spending the year in another American city, and she stayed in our home during the summer after my senior year, 1974. We hit it off immediately, chatting about all the things high school girls normally discuss, and wrote to each other for a time after she went back to Iran. Here is a photo of us together. But it wasn’t too many years after that when revolution changed Iran politically, resulting in the exile of the Shah and the taking of the American embassy. I sure most everyone recalls that the American hostages were held for over a year, from late 1979 to early 1981. Shortly after the hostages were taken, I was spouting the sort of vengeful thoughts you refer to, when my mother interrupted me with a blunt statement: “You are talking about our friend. Is that how you want people to feel about her and her country?” Of course I could have argued that she was not of the militant group such as those who ruled the country now, but my mother’s point was essentially, I think, the same as yours. I was railing against a faceless imaginary idea of a group, when there were many people of good will there who wished us no harm, and it was wrong to feel hatred toward them.

      Most of the time we feel so helpless about the wars, and violence and atrocities happening all over the world. But we can make a difference one person at a time by offering friendship to each other and refusing to hate. I will always believe that most people the whole world over want the same things: to live in peace, have the love of family and friends, and leave the world a bit better off for having been here. Violence, starvation and other devastating circumstances can lead to unthinkable behaviors by some, but that doesn’t change the fact that for most of us, what we have in common is greater than what divides us. I know there are many who think me naive, but I really believe that. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  9. Julia, so many years later and it’s a date laced with so much emotion. We recall what we were doing, how we reacted, and what we did in the hours following. I’ll always remember that when I decided to seek comfort and peace outside that I walked Salty. It was just so eerily quiet, only the background ocean waves breaking seemed normal. Normal yet different! I remembered Wanda Green today, a flight attendant on Flight 93 that I chose from a list on our big screen at church on the following Sunday. We are united here today in love and faith. Thank you, my friend.

    • Sheila, Wanda Green must have a similar place in your heart as Earl Glenn Cobeil and his family have in mine. His wife Patricia called me again just this week, and it was so good to talk to her. Someday I hope I will meet her in person. She brought her grandchildren to see their grandfather’s grave and his name on the Wall for the first time recently, but we were in Atlanta while they were here so we agreed we’ll have to try again someday (they still live in Michigan). It is so important to remember there are individual faces and lives attached to these tragedies, as Jack pointed out. I love the thought of you walking Salty along the quiet beach as you dealt with the tumult of emotions we all felt. Thanks for sharing that image with me, and for sharing so much else also!

  10. singleseatfighterpilot

    Sheila has Wanda Green; Julia has Earl Glenn Cobeil; and Jack has many individual Arabs with whom he did business.
    On September 15, 2001 I had Waleed H. We worked together as we passed through the smoke column rising from the wreck of the twin towers. The smell was sickening – like when a dentists drill hits rotten decay. Waleed became more and more animated and excitedly filled with joy. I was his supervisor, and I reprimanded his enthusiasm. His reply:
    “Well it’s about time Americans got a taste of this!”
    Julia, to quote the Coca-Cola song:
    “I’d like to build the world a home, and furnish it with love. . .
    I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it com-pan-y. . .”
    It may not be naivete, but It is fact that some things are not to be.

    • Eric, I am sorry you have such a bitter memory of this cruel individual. Were it not for the videos of some people dancing in the streets rejoicing at the carnage, it would be hard to believe. Still, I will never believe that this hateful person represents the majority. And even if he does, that only cements my determination NOT to be like him. I’d rather hold in my mind the words of Jesus: “They know not what they do.” I will pray for you to find a person of Waleed’s ethnicity, whose kindness will soften and somewhat counteract the ugly behavior you described. Keep your eyes open for him, or her. Thanks for sharing your sorrow with us.

      • Eric, at such an emotional time, I’m sure those hurtful words of Waleed’s had to be heart wrenching. I, too, said a special prayer for you.

        • Thank you, Sheila. ❤ ❤ ❤

  11. It’s really surprising to me that it’s been 13 years since that day. I hope there’s been healing for all the families who lost a loved one. Today must be especially hard for them. People sometimes forget how a kind gesture and smile can really make someones day and help a community feel more cohesive. Maybe even just holding the door open for the next person or asking your barrister how their days going while you wait for your coffee, or let someone merge in traffic. It’s so simple. I’d like to see it be 2nd nature more than something we ‘try’ to remember to do. Kindness is what separates the civilized from un-civilized, I think. xK

    • K, it really is simple, but as so many have said, “simple does not mean easy.” Sometimes we get confused into thinking that only international summit meetings or religious authority figures or powerful people can make a difference. I don’t think it’s true, though. Most of us live in the world of mundane daily events, and that’s where we can feel the effects of individual kindness — and spread them. We don’t have to deny the evil or cruelty in the world, but we need not be defeated by it.

      • I love that Julia, “We don’t have to deny the evil or cruelty in the world, but we need not be defeated by it”. ❤ True that.

        • 🙂 ❤ "We shall overcome."

  12. Your words… life is short, unpredictable and sometimes very difficult. Let’s be there for each other.” ring true. I try to live my life that way every single day.

    • Alys, I think you succeed at that beautifully. 🙂 ❤

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