It’s early Thursday morning. Riding the train into the city this past week, I remember that day. In the years since, each new one passing had lulled me into thinking I had wrapped my head around the 9/11 tragedies as much as anyone else. But just now, I caught a glimpse of someone’s tablet and they were watching footage of the first ill-fated jet liner (American Flight 11) piercing the side of the North Tower.
I am angry. In less time than it took to look away from the image playing out on the screen next to me, I am suddenly and physically transformed by rage. I pull out my pen and begin writing.
I remember the image of that day. In 2001, I was working a database assignment at Combined Insurance here in Chicago when the phone in the center of our work pod rang. It was Rick.
“Find a TV!”
“A TV. Can you get to a TV? A plane just crashed into a skyscraper in New York City…I’m watching it…” and then a pause. The image I remember is the pause. Almost choking and screaming at the same time, he whispered, “Oh my God, there’s a 2nd plane!”
The image of that moment will forever be etched in my forehead. No one else in the office had heard the news. But inside of a minute or two, phones all around me began firing off like they had a mind of their own, one right after the other. “Have you heard?” Turns out, Combined had offices in those far-away buildings.
It might not have even been 30-minutes, before video carts began appearing in the hallways and work spaces on each floor as people gathered around them in hushed concern on that morning.
This morning, seeing those images of the 2nd impact, I cried. The feelings may have only lasted for a minute or two, but I had to work to keep them silent and secret from my fellow riders. There I was. And my anger? Now I understand it better. It sourced from not having seen the ambush coming from images I had presumed to be dead and gone. I was wrong. That’s the thing that makes images powerful. They may seem out-of-sight, but they are never out-of-mind.
On that day, I remember hearing sobs periodically punctuate the afternoon as word began to circulate that this New York co-worker or that was missing. Phone calls were going unanswered and e-mails, not read. As that day wore on, the shock and look of growing realization dawning on the faces of folks around me pulled me into their tribe. And we, as humans do, were there together.
For all the tributes and sentiments uttered since that fateful morning, the single image of personal memorial most etched into me was something I saw later that same day.
“Local radio was filled with reports of Chicagoans spontaneously calling the airports and hotels, offering to take in stranded travelers for the night. For me, a vivid memory was riding my CTA train home that evening. As we pulled into the Belmont “L” station, I spotted an unshaven and disheveled gentlemen standing on the east platform, facing towards the distant tragedy. It was clear he had not showered in weeks, but his Vietnam beret was spotless. He was simply standing there, at full parade rest. No ‘Can you spare a dollar?‘ banter..not even a cup for coins. There he stood, one man who had stepped up for his country long ago, standing there still – filled with an odd and powerful dignity. I didn’t know him or ever find out who he was, but I remember having to choke back an unexpected wave of emotion. I wonder if he didn’t already recognize those impacting jets as signals…indicators that the time for me and my fellow commuters to find our courage was here. I will have the image of his ‘local call’ etched into my brain till the day I die.” (~)
Images become such a part of us I wonder if they don’t simply fuse themselves into the very DNA of our neurons. They may not constitute us, but they do define. And like any good math formula, I know it to be true because it works when you run the equation the other way, defining moments committed to images.
In the coming week and on a much more intimate scale,I will observe the day on which my one and only son was born.
It’s been years now since I’ve been able to wrap him up in a bear hug never ending. With Rick’s help, I found him, wrote him and we were subsequently reunited just after his 21st birthday. We even had a few good years before the rest of our family caught wind of it…and then it was gone. But what isn’t gone are the images…the photographs, the talks during our daytrips around town, the dinners, the feel of him looking at me when he didn’t think I knew and the first time either one of us visited my dad in the cemetery. Rick took us and we did it together. Images. Enduring in our parts. Defining as the Whole.
He’s long since grown now with a family of his own. Figuratively, I’ve watched him from distant hilltops. I breathe his name at midnight pretty much every time there is a full moon, wondering if he’s looking at the very same moon at the very same moment like we said we would. He is my ‘Buddy Boy’.
In closing, would you join me in my solitary birthday observation with a bit of verse I first shared with him in August of 2004 during the early days of our reintegration. I knew it was good because after he read it, he smiled, looked at me and said, “I like”. I remember that day. Now, I share the image with you.
God speed and travel with us, each and every one this week. God bless us and these United States of America, all its sons and daughters – living and dead, near us or closer still, deep in the private places we reserve in our hearts only for them.
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Opening Photo at 9/11 Museum. New York pays tribute to those who died on the day that changed the world. – See more at: http://funeralfund.blogspot.com/2014/05/911-museum-new-york-pays-tribute-to.html#sthash.btqxhPJH.dpuf; What Happens When History Is Buried – Image of Vietnam Veteran and quote: Mike Hastie, Vietnam Veteran, February 18, 2007: http://thewe.cc/weplanet/circus/2007/circus_february_2007.html
~ The local radio passage excerpted from Local Calls by dan4 kent, published on September 9, 2011. [https://dan4kent.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/local-calls/]
~~ Vespers, My Own by dan4kent, published on October 1, 2011 as Part Two in a series about family, coming out and sacrifices offered. [https://dan4kent.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/vesper-prayer/]
READ MORE ABOUT IT: Timeline of the 9/11 Attack: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_for_the_day_of_the_September_11_attacks; Wind Up My Skirt, is another fine WordPress blogger. She does good work (even if she says it’s only ‘her 2-cents worth’). Her Father’s Day issue was a really cool photo play of guys and their young ones which is where I found what I’m calling ‘I know you’. You can visit at: http://windupmyskirt.com/2012/06/11/happy-fathers-day/. The reason I was so pumped to see it was I received the same photograph from a very good friend of mine shortly after my son’s 1st birthday. I’ve kept it close ever since. Didn’t think I could find it online, but ta-da, there it was. Thank you Wind. Father and Son Fist Bump: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/126593439497253231/ and as found on www.playdatesareformoms.blogspot.com
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