No Words

That morning was beautifully sunny, cool and crisp. I had just walked the dog and was going to throw in a load of laundry. Typical, mundane, like countless other mornings in my little Wisconsin village. The kids were at school and they were young enough that I was glad that school had begun again and that I had until 3:15 until they were home.

We had a patio poured the day before as well as a walk-way to our front door. They were both edged in stamped concrete simulating red brick. And that was the problem. The contractor had not,as he had promised, “cleaned up.” And from my driveway’s foot and gutter and to the four houses past mine to the corner, there was reddish sludge. What a mess. A surefire way to annoy my neighbors. I realized I would have to clean it up. First I took the dog back into the house. Before I went back out I turned on the TV. An initial report announced a fire at the World Trade Center. I watched for a minute, and then sat down at the kitchen table to watch the horrible story unfold.

We all know how the “fire” turned into a much more hideously terrible story. And you like me probably recall the typical mundane things you were doing as history unfolded in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania that day. Then like you I called people. First I reached my husband, his office a 10 story Wisconsin style “high rise” was later evacuated as a precaution. My girlfriend in Colorado called. We were both doing laundry as we talked on the phone. Trying to avoid watching more of the carnage on our TVs.

Since the advent of mass communication, first radio then TV, now the Internet, people have ‘touchstone’ moments. For my parents it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For those my age the day JFK was shot. For people no younger than my now 18 year old daughter,it was September 11. She was in 3rd grade, my son a freshman in high school. For a long time after ward they both called those events “the tragedies.”

I remember other things that happened in the hours and days that followed. That very afternoon I pulled myself away from the TV, and went to the grocery store. I needed groceries but could only bring myself to buy milk. As I left the check out I saw a neighbor come in. She looked at me with consolation in her eyes walked towards me, and we just hugged each other wordlessly. At our church the following Sunday there was no sermon. Just the reading of Scripture. I forget which ones. But I remember as church ended and we filed quietly out, the minister waiting at the door as usual, when one congregant,a young mom like me, broke down into tears in his arms. No words spoken.

There have been many changes in our lives since then. But, taking our shoes off at the airport, dims in comparison to the loss of loved ones by families on that day, or in the days that followed our country’s military response to the attacks.

I remember all of this. But mostly I remember a great heavy feeling of sadness shock and grief. And, unable to watch anymore that day, I went out to my yard, picked up the hose and started to clean my red stained gutter. The water worked the heavy sludge down the street. But I didn’t have enough water pressure to get it all the way to the drain at the corner. One of my neighbors saw me and came out and stood with me, his wife followed a few minutes later. “The second tower just collapsed,” she said. He walked back to his house and picked up his garden hose and turned it on, joining me at the curb. Soon as I looked down the street I saw my other neighbors doing like wise. Silently- all of us, trying to wash away the ugly red waste from our sight.

Turn, Turn, Turn

The college freshmen walked toward the student union to check in. She was excitedly focused on what was in front of her when she heard her name called from behind. It was her mother. “I didn’t get to hug you good bye.” The freshmen was startled, she gave the obligatory hug and continued on her way. The mother returned to her car at the curb, and she and the father drove away.

This morning on my walk my neighborhood was full of moms and dads taking first day of school pictures of kids. The children smiled at the camera, depending on their age, with big excited grins or embarrassed “can we get this over with” grimaces. There were no pictures at my house for the first time in 20 years.

This morning I ran into my daughter’s ,now retired, kindergarten teacher in Starbucks. She asked if I noticed all the little ones lining up for school. I told her I had dropped my little one off at college yesterday. She clutched her heart.”How was that for you?” “It feels worse today.” I replied. She shared a memory of my daughter from all those years ago. I remembered how much my daughter loved K4 and this teacher. I remembered how I had tried to talk her pre-school teachers out of advancing her to kindergarten. “She could stay, but she’d have to co-teach the class,” they laughingly told me.

I know that this next phase of our lives will be just great. But right now I’m feeling nostalgic for hands to hold and parent teacher meetings. I know I’m not alone. If you’ve ever dropped your oldest off at college you understand. If you’ve dropped your youngest off at college you feel my pain.

I know what I need to focus on are the blessings this day represents. Two healthy, mostly happy kids who worked hard to get themselves into college. Two young adults starting the next phase of their young lives. The boy I dropped off at the university 6 years ago is on his own now, a college graduate. He’s a different person than the boy who asked us as we prepared our exit, “You mean you’re leaving now?” His little sister and I had made his dorm bed and hung his clothes. His father laughingly said “Yes, we won’t be staying at college with you.”

I can only wonder at the growth and changes that the little sister will experience during her college years.

I’m not the first parent to realize that everything we do as parents to love and nurture our children is to get them ready for this day. My husband was only half joking when he shared his thoughts to a young neighbor mom. Her little darling in the pixie bob with the almond eyes, a beautiful gift from China. She showed us her little pink glittery shoes and and told us how kindergarten started next week. “You ‘ll love them so much, buy them hundreds of shoes, and then they’ll leave you.” he predicted. And in the end that’s what happens.

But it’s a wonderful journey. One I’m sure we would never want to miss. And It’s timeless. It will be repeated next fall with others, by  this year’s high school seniors. And 18 years from now by the moms pushing the buggies down my street today. You see the clueless freshmen who forgot to hug her mother was me. I never dreamed I’d be in my mother’s  shoes one day. Sad, happy and grabbing one more hug from a girl focused on what was in front of her. I’m just say’n.