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.