Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Day of Blue Skies

I want to tell you a story.

A few weeks ago I was in my home town on Long Island to say goodbye to an old friend. There were a good many faces there that I hadn’t seen in some time. One of them was that of the younger brother of a classmate of mine. His family lived on the next block over and his sister married the youngest son of the old friend for whose life I had come to show my respects.

He had brought his wife and two young daughters to the celebration of my old friend’s life, and soon we got to talking about all the things that people talk about when they haven’t seen each other in 20 years. I finally asked him if he still lived on Long Island. He said no, he had moved his family out to Sussex County, New Jersey (a beautiful part of northwestern Jersey that nobody seems to know even exists). We talked about all the congestion and traffic on Long Island and about what a wise move he had made for himself and his kids.

And then I asked: “Do you have to commute to the City every day from Sussex?”

He paused for a heartbeat or two, and then in a low monotone said: “Not any more. Not since they blew up my building.”

It was my turn to pause. “You were there?” I asked softly.

“In the street.” he replied.

His eight-year old stopped sipping her Shirley Temple and piped in cheerfully as she wrapped herself around him “Daddy was late!"

My friend said nothing. He just looked at me, stone-faced, and stroked his child's hair. And in his eyes I saw him seeing all of the horrors of that day. And through his eyes I watched it with him.

Maybe only a few seconds passed. But it was enough. I clapped him on the shoulder and said “Let’s go get a beer.” Nothing more was said about it.

This is how life is for some. They won’t watch the specials and documentaries commemorating the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. They don't need to be reminded. They carry that movie in their head. In towns and villages all over Long Island you’ll find small memorials bearing the names of those residents who didn’t come home from work. It isn’t forgotten there. It is etched in stone.

My friend’s daughter was only a toddler when the towers came down, but she knows that it was good for Daddy to be late that one day. Nothing more need be said.


Cassandra said...

And this is what you posted to cheer us up?


Seriously, I had an unfinished post, for over a month, in my drafts folder. I deleted it a while back. It was just too emotional.

So now I will have to write it over.

It was about Lydia, my 9/11 victim (I hate that word, viscerally), who I am memorializing. I feel bad. I was "supposed" to put a post up, asking everyone to volunteer to do one. I had emailed the few big name bloggers I knew, asking someone to get on board with this because they were still so far short.

I couldn't finish it.

While writing it I realized something odd. A really important part of me died that day, something I will never get back.

That is such an odd thing to say if you'd known me then. Of course, none of you did. But I was so different. It makes me angry, sometimes.

It's like someone put a fork in a river, and forever changed the path and I can't go back. And the odd thing is that at the time, it really wasn't really that big a deal to me. That is the biggest change of all.

spd rdr said...

It's easier to talk about the monsters under your bed when it's still light out.

portia said...

But for the Grace of God. It's remarkable, spd, how many people were "late" that day-- delayed by less than extraordinary circumstances that changed their lives.

Tuesday the 11th was primary day in New York City for the Mayoral race for both the Republican and the Democrat candidates so the number of voters that headed for the polls that morning was larger than usual. Both races were hotly contested with the three major newspapers each supporting a different candidate...all the more reason to make sure you got up early that day to vote. Two of my acquaintances did just that on their way to their offices in the WTC that morning. it what you will--they both were late to work.

Tuesday, the 11th, indeed was a day of blue skies in NYC--what pilots call "severe clear"-- a perfect day for a colleague of mine to walk the 40 odd blocks to his law offices in the South Tower rather than take the subway. He stopped at Starbucks for a coffee. He was late, too. Others in his office were not.

Unsettling twists for even the most fateful among us.

Thanks for posting the link to the LI Memorial. Seeing all the names in one place you realize how many of our neighbors never made it home on the LIRR that night. That "picture" alone--of commuter trains pulling into Merillion Ave. or Country Life Press--breaks my heart.

Pile On® said...

Clear blue skies.

I don't know if it is strange or not but that is what I most vividly remember from that day. It was the same here in Houston. The humidity was low so there was no haze and no smog. The skies were a beautiful cerulean blue. It seemed like the kind of day where nothing bad could happen.

I was enjoying my drive to work that day.

When I saw the video from NY it struck me how the skies were the same. Nothing bad could come out of the sky on a day so perfect.

Pooke said...

I'm still seeing the effects of this five years later. Families torn apart. A lot of those workers came from here - a lot of them suffer PTSD are leaving wives and children. (In my neighbors case, triplets). Some just couldn't handle the stress... my best friends father lived in Ft. Lee died of a heart attack shortly after. Others are just dying from the pollution at the cleanup area.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to bitch, I'm just bitching. I'm not blaming anyone except the bastards that took those buildings down. But it still hurts.

I've spent the last year working across the street from our memorial. It haunts me daily.

Pooke said...

PS: Sis lives in Suckits County and BIL still commutes to the Lower East Side. They are in Byram. Their last is at Lenape Valley HS.

camojack said...

Like Portia said, it truly is remarkable how many people were late that day...the brother of one of my co-workers amongst them.

Cassandra said...

Oh Pooke. There are no words.

Anonymous said...

Lest we forget that awful day
When steel and concrete failed
And many good souls did pass away

But Kipling is better, from a different age, yet still the same strife


by Rudyard Kipling

God of our fathers, known of old --
Lord of our far-flung battle line -
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine --
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies --
The Captains and the Kings depart --
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away --
On dune and headland sinks the fire --
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe --
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law --
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard --
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

-Don Brouhaha

KJ said...

Those who were there may not need reminding, but the country does need reminding. Regularly it seems.

I don't have any New York roots or know lots of New Yorkers, and my only concern that day was an in-law in the Pentagon (who was fine). So I lack the personal experience, but I was never so moved by any event as 9/11 -- though I was afar and away from home on business at the time. I watched the second tower get hit from a hotel lobby TV. Then I heard the radio announcer tell me the first tower fell while driving to my meeting. And I watched the TV coverage constantly for days and while as a man I must deny ever crying about it, I must admit a lump in the throat at times.

I don't want that to ever happen again to my country. I won't forget it. Sadly, I believe that many have.

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