Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wake Me Up When September Ends



September used to be my favorite month. As a girl, I looked forward to buying a new outfit and supplies for a fresh start at school. It was a month for new beginnings, since my birthday is also in September. In fact, with four birthdays and two anniversaries in my family, September has always been a month of celebration for me.

Now there's a thick, gray, gritty cloud hanging over my favorite month. Flipping August away on my calendar, my heart sinks and I see that cloud rushing through the streets of Manhattan, sending everyday people like you and me screaming for their lives on September 11th, 2001.

My sister and her family live close enough to the city that they could smell the cloud that stretched out over Long Island that day. But they were touched by it in an even more personal way. On September 11th one of their best friends didn't come home from work.

We didn't know it at the time, but while we waited for some news, Ed's driver's license was fluttering down from Tower Two and landing in the street below. It was recovered and returned to his wife months later.

The summer after 9/11, I visited Ground Zero. There wasn't much to see. It looked like an ordinary construction site. But to those of us familiar with New York City, it's not about what you see there, it's about what you don't see. It's all about that vast, gaping empty sky.

We left Ground Zero and walked around outside Trinity Church which had been set up as a triage center and later, a respite for rescue workers. The church itself was closed while cleaning crews readied it for normal services.

But all along the fence which surrounds it was a makeshift shrine of flowers, photos, cards and origami peace cranes. Typically loud New Yorkers and tourists viewed it in silence. With a sick feeling, we passed vendors selling World Trade Center souvenirs.

I don't know how to make sense of it even now, all these years later. I think about the stories I heard, and it doesn't seem real: a friend of mine who was supposed to be very near the World Trade Center that day, but canceled his meeting the day before; my sister who works in Boston and thought a woman she knew may have been on one of the planes; my cousin who works at the pentagon but was mercifully out of town that day.

And details about Ed Lehman who didn't make it out of Tower Two. He had been in a meeting on the 92th floor when word came to evacuate. In the stairwell somewhere around the 78th floor, he was told that no one was sure if everyone had gotten out. He wanted to go back up to double-check but was urged to stay with the group moving down. He broke away from a coworker's grasp and was never seen again.

It's just too much. So I'll observe September 11th the way I lived it in 2001: horrified, baffled, nauseous but deeply connected to my larger family: those of us who proudly call themselves American.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a very touching article Carol - one that most of us can relate to whether we are American or Canadian. A disaster is a disaster and touches us all. I can still recall, with such clarity, that "flashbulb" moment when the first tower came down and then the second. Three huge surreal moments in my life: the assassination of JFK, the Challenger blowing up and the twin towers coming down. Your blog is a poignant reminder "less we forget".

Jan

Lubiana said...

Very moving blog Caryl, about something we won't ever forget.

jersseyirish said...

Caryl, I think most felt a sense of loss that day. I also lost some friends and co workers, my kids 12 and 15 at the time went through the loss of a parent with a few of their friends. Our sense of safety was stripped that day, I hope I never expeience that again.

Anonymous said...

I remember being in a fog that day;listening to the radio thinking "this can't be.." then later at home, seeing the images on TV. It wasn't until I realized that every house on my block was flying the flag that the tears finally came. It started out a normal day, we went to work and almost 3,000 of us never came home.

Kenzie said...

I was in class when it happened, and we heard word about it. My teacher put on the news, and we all witnessed the second the plane crash into the other tower. A girl that I went to school with, her uncle was working there that day, and like many other people, he was never heard from again. It is very hard to get through something like that, and it will always be remembered.

Anonymous said...

Well said Caryl. No matter how many years, I will always remember the day and feel the same way I felt that day, devastated and sad. Your NE family.

Patricia Fedorow said...

That's a beautiful remembrance of one horrific day...I saw Ed Lehman's name come up yesterday, and now knowing his story hurts my heart more....

Anonymous said...

I was watching the news and saw the first plane crash and, remembering a plane crash into the Empire State Bldg. some years ago, thought "Oh, a terrible accident!" But the second plane was no accident. It was unreal watching the towers come down and the cloud of dust that roared through the streets. When we went into the city some weeks later, we saw a poster for Ed Lehman in the subway but we knew that he was gone. I cannot watch the reading of the names without tearing up but still I watch out of respect for the many lives that were lost. There were expected to be many survivors and people lined up to donate blood - but the loss was catastrophic. No, we will never forget. Thank you, Caryl, for your tender and insightful blog. Love, Mom