Those who were born after Sept 11, 2001, or were very young at that time might ask, "Where were you when the planes crashed into the twin towers in NYC?" In the same way, we may have asked our relatives where they were when Kennedy was shot or when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I have been asked where I was during the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. It's hard for people who weren't around during a major event in human history to imagine what it was like for those who were.
There are loads of photos from that day - planes crashing into buildings, smoke pouring from the windows of the towers, people running through streets covered with ash. Even though I live only 1.5 hours from NYC, 2 hours from the Pentagon and 4 hours from the crash of Flight 93, I don't have photos from those events or even from that day.
However, I have a picture of that day permanently painted in my thoughts. I have a clear memory of how I felt as it was all developing, of how surreal it was to see in real-time what was so horrible and unbelievable and scary. It was so strange to think that things were unfolding as I watched - LIVE. In the afternoon, when my children had returned home from school, I sat down and wrote. What I wrote is forever captured in my mind as a picture.
Later, I saw that the Philadelphia Inquirer was looking for submissions from people in the area about their experience that day - and so, I submitted what I had written and strangely enough - it was printed.
My article describes the picture that will ever be etched in my mind when I remember September 11th. It is a picture of innocence in a world that was experiencing horror and the divergence between the innocent and the horror cannot be erased from my thoughts about that day.
Here is the brief submission that was printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer those 14 years ago:
Horror on a Beautiful Day
Yesterday was September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful day. The sky was a vivid blue. Birds sang, crickets buzzed. Trees swayed gently in the cool breeze. It was a day to delight in the experience of ordinary beauty.
I'm a stay-at-home mom. After my last child left for school, I sat down with coffee and the newspaper - just like every day. The phone rang. My husband said, "Turn on the news."
The TV is never on during the day but yesterday, I stood in front of TV-news the entire day. I felt numb. The crash into the Pentagon made it personal. My dad sometimes worked there and my brothers in law work across the street. An hour of dead lines and fast busy signals to my dad's cell caused me to panic. "Dad, get out of there!" I shouted when he finally answered. I could barely register his reply, "I'm at home; I didn't go in today." A dead car battery had delayed him.
My dad's chances of being in a meeting at the Pentagon were real but not certain. Eerily, I tried to perceive the hundreds who knew their relatives were on hijacked planes. I attempted to fathom the families of thousands who work in or around the twin towers. My panic was minuscule compared to the horrified knowledge and consuming dread of those whose lives would be imprinted in ways I cannot comprehend.
At kindergarten pick-up, the day's devastation seemed unreal. The tree-lined walkway fronting the school was calm. Perfect, white, puffy clouds floated above. Children were cheerful, smiling; running to their parents armed with Tempra-painted pictures and juggling brightly colored backpacks.
Overcome by innocence, we grasped the open hands of children, holding them tighter, noticing the slippery wetness between our palms. Leaving school, I felt the breeze, noted the sky. It was a beautiful day.