Has it really been eleven years?
It was a beautiful day. I remember that. I got up to check email, and the AOL homepage had something about a plane flying into a building. I thought it was a goofy thing, like that idiot who had earlier flown into – was it the Empire State Building? – in a small plane.
It was a beautiful morning, and I had a kid to take to school. His older brother could walk on his own the five blocks to elementary, but Marshall – in Kindergarten – went in an hour later, and at any rate was too little to walk alone. (And too sleepy. I used to get him up, bathe him, shovel breakfast into his mouth and walk him to school and if I were very lucky, he’d wake up when we got there.)
So I walked him to school, waited till the teacher took him in and walked back home, under a cloudless sky, across our little mountain village, looking forward to our writers’ group meeting that Saturday, feeling financially stable for the first time in my adult life (I’d just sold my first book) and thinking “This is when we reached adulthood. From now on, it’s the easy part. Things will only get better.”
When I got home, I went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before going up to write. And the phone rang. It was Rebecca Lickiss and she was screaming for me to turn on the news.
Over the rest of the day I alternated between watching the very grainy TV station and swigging Jim Beam from the bottle. At some point I must have fried doughnuts, because I ate a pile of them. My friend Charles was sent home from his job because it was in a tallish building. The kids came home from school, and all through this – like a muffling fear – I couldn’t reach Dan who was, literally, working (as a contractor) at an undisclosed location somewhere near DC. I knew of no reason he should be near the pentagon, (the company his company worked for was R. J. Reynolds, for crying out loud) but companies have weird contacts and contracts.
Turns out he was in a “Secure” — as in silent on purpose — meeting room, and didn’t know the news. He called as soon as he heard.
I think he drove home two? Three days? Later. Our friend Alan Lickiss drove to meet him in Hays, Kansas, and I went along as the designated swearer. (Alan’s religion forbids swearing.) The only way I slept until Dan got home was blotting everything with alcohol, then I got up with coffee to send the kids to school. I sent them to school because Marshall thought Dan was dead. He saw him leave on a plane. He saw the plane crash. Kindergartners have problems with the idea of more than one plane.
Has it really been eleven years?
On the one hand, part of me wants to laugh at the terrorists. They thought they could break us. They thought they could scare us. They underestimated both the size of our territory and the mettle of my people.
And part of me thinks of the psychological twisting that has taken place since then: people who blame their own country for the actions of barbarians; people who kowtow to the barbarians and claim to be multiculturalists because that sounds so much better than vile cowards; people who think that a country the size of ours, as wealthy as we are should do nothing to deter attackers because we’d be protected by our halo of purity and goodness.
But then I think of the other side of it, too. Our friends who pitched in to help me meet Dan on his way home. Our friends who gathered in our ratty movie room so we could be together. I think of our troops who fought the enemy there, so we wouldn’t fight them here. I think of the brave young men and women willing to lay down their lives for this country — for the last, best hope on Earth.
And I think of those who died, even on 9/11, to save others: the people who went into the towers, to help total strangers down. On 9/11 on the Jane Austen board, a woman who worked with Rick Rescorla was telling us all about his heroism. You could hear her tears through her typing, but she was awed and humble as people should be who met a hero face to face.
Then there are the people of flight 93. I know a lot of you aren’t believers, and my deepest beliefs are none of your business, but like many writers I end up thinking of G-d as an author. Impossible not to, of course, since it’s the mind set I know best. (Though standing in the middle of the yard, looking up at the sky and going “Does THAT sound like a good plot development? Seriously? Why don’t you join a workshop already?” tends to baffle the neighbors.)
And as an author to an Author I have to admire the plotting touch, where the three burly and brave guys who spearheaded the fight back in flight 93 were a born again man, a Jewish man, and a gay man. Can you imagine any group designed to give more heart burn to the enemies that brought down the towers and who tried to use flight 93 as a weapon?
I can’t either. But, more importantly, I can’t imagine any other culture, any other country, any other place where those three would have banded together, immediately – instinctively – putting aside any perceived differences, thinking only of trying to save the defenseless, laying down their lives for others.
Their lives were forfeit, but they died free men. They died heroes. More importantly, they died Americans.
Surely a nation that produces such men will not perish from this Earth.
We will not go quietly into that good night.
We’re the land of the free and the home of the brave. And we will stand.