Of all the headlines and quotes I read in yesterday’s paper regarding the attacks on September 11, 2001, there was one that caused my heart to skip half a beat. “Every day since then has been September 12” – Condoleeza Rice.
And so, on this September 12, I try to remember that September 12 because that day would’ve been the day we had to get up and carry on as best we could. While every horrible detail of September 11 is burned in my mind, September 12 is a blur except for one thing. I remember standing on my front lawn and looking up at the sky. Another spectacular fall day where we lived, just north of Chicago. The sky was impossibly peacefull. And empty. How could something so serene have, just the day before, played host to four airplanes used as missiles that would change our lives forever.
I remember as a cranky teenager when my parents would speak of days like that (they had the misfortune to live through more than one), I would yawn and roll my eyes. “Really?” I’d ask, with the cynicism of a 16 year old. “There’s no way one day can change an entire country’s collective life forever.” Parents could be so dramatic sometimes. My father, who worked at the Pentagon during WWII, would lean forward in his chair, his blue eyes blazing. “Your generation has no idea. And, yes, little miss smarty-pants, one day can change everything.” And then he’d launch into The Lecture about Pearl Harbor. And still, I remained unconvinced.
I get it now, Daddy. I wish you were around to put your hands on my shoulders, fix me with that blue eyed stare and say, “I told you so.” Because, for his generation, perhaps every day since was December 8. How many Americans of his generation stood outside their houses the next day, staring at the sky with dread, not knowing what would come next?
The sky on September 11 was a clear deep blue we get when summer’s haze has finally flown away. That depth of blue can occur outside of autumn; in April of this year, I looked out at a September 11 sky and fell apart. The air had something in it – a clarity, like autumn. A short essay was born – the first time I’d tried to write about it – and although it was the wrong time of year, it tore me to bits. I sat at the computer and sobbed. I hit “save” and was done with it – I never submitted it anywhere. I wasn’t sure anyone would understand how an April sky had brought me to my knees.
I opened the file today and realized the essay wasn’t very good but it did have a certain raw energy to it. I might give it to my kids to read. This year was the first they asked questions about 9/11. Tears running down my face, I tried to explain the gut-wrenching emotions, the glimmers of hope, the stories of rescue and survival. They asked very technical questions, some I couldn’t answer. My tears confused them. “It’s 10 years later, mommy.” They might’ve rolled their eyes, a bit.
The day, regardless of how many anniversaries pass, will always be an open wound on my heart and on the hearts of Americans everywhere. I hope my children never experience a day when a crystalline sky becomes a reminder of pain.
Every day since has been September 12.