Saturday, September 10, 2005
Each year, as the day approaches, I begin to remember. A late evening walk ends in deepening darkness. Grouse nestle in grass around my house, and the elk sip at my pond's diminishing water. Rain, one night, awakens me with cool air, and I get out of bed to crank my windows closed. Summer is ending.
Days speed by and are gone, awareness of their departure foundering under lulling routine. Only with significant disruption do we stop and take note of where we are.
I think of that summer, four years ago. Was that normality? Is it abnormality that I am experiencing now? My mountains have not changed. Stalwarts, they nestle me in undeserved safety. A craggy Continental Divide rises in full view east of my house, and clear blue skies extend as far as I can see. Driving to town with open windows, I hear gravel crunching under my car's tires until I reach the quiet of smooth asphalt. Along the way, newly mowed fields confirm the earth's continuing rhythmic circle around its sun.
Then I drive by the barn that stands where I was when it happened. Even now, I cringe, dreading the memories of that September morning.
A sudden connection with something even further in the past pulls me to the side of the highway, where I stop and take a deep breath. More than half a century ago, I played in the back seat of an old green Chevrolet. My parents were listening to the radio that Sunday morning in December, when another war began. As my father told me, with hazel eyes steeled against his memories, "It was five minutes before noon, Mississippi time. We were on the road between Robinsonville and Memphis."
Though I can't recall what I heard and felt, I surely kept inside my psyche what I sensed in their voices. Shock filled their car and echoed in my own 50 years later, when I added new layers to Pearl Harbor's hold on destruction.
Over and over I saw those pictures: planes flying into two towers, a gaping hole in Manhattan's mass of concrete, bodies dropping from flaming buildings, people running in streets from fire and heat and smoke and ashes, so many people going about their everyday lives brought to a halt by a hatred they could not have even imagined. Everything that was usual became unusual. Days and nights passed. We listened and watched, unable to press buttons that would turn off hourly news reports. In brief interludes of any escape we managed to find, an eerie silence surrounded us when we stepped away.
That silence finds me today, and I understand why.
With each anniversary, fewer people are remembering. That first year, about a hundred members of our small community gathered in honor of our emergency service personnel. In 2003, only a half dozen of us found each other at the park, a last-minute effort. In 2004, we planned ahead, and 30 or so assembled on a rainy afternoon. Listening to music that served as a requiem and without words spoken aloud, we paid tribute, each in our own way. A New Yorker, having moved with his family to our town during summer 2001, returned to the city that September to help his fellow firemen. His somber expression spoke soundlessly of what he had witnessed there, while his words from that first memorial yet echoed in my mind. A young woman, who had also attended in previous years, sat quietly under her umbrella. She had worked in the tower's Port Authority office; her husband worked in the building across the street.
This afternoon, we're meeting again. Added to my silence are thoughts of all who, like myself, stopped somewhere in horror and disbelief on Sept. 11, 2001. Somehow, we must pass it on, the impact of what hit us at that moment.
Only by acknowledging terrorists' disdain for human life as the abnormal can we comprehend where we are in time and what the future demands of us. In the face of all our differences -- philosophical, political, historical, cultural -- we have to know what those 13 stripes of red and white represent. What once were only a dozen plus one have become 50 stars in a field of blue. We need to reach for those stars and envision what we can accomplish together. The gasp we felt four years ago separates the usual from the unusual. Breathing again, we'll find the hope that can unite us.