A Bright and Cloudless Sky 09.11.2013


It happens every year:  September 11 arrives and I relive that day.  Every second of that morning, into afternoon, into evening.  And if you were there, alive and in any way affected, you probably haven't forgotten the details either.  Nothing is accomplished by reliving the events of that day, but from somewhere unknown to me, I am driven to think about it.  

There are stretches of time when I think about September 11, not the cruelty or despair of it, but the mystery of it, as if it's an investigation I can never close and I have to keep thinking about it, trying to figure it out.  I read articles, conspiracy theories, I watch documentaries and movies about that day.  Most recently, I watched The Falling Man, about Richard Drew's brutal and controversial photograph of a man falling head down from the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  

In Washington, like New York, that day was sunny, clear, and blue skies everywhere you looked.  I worked on K Street at the time, and a meeting had just finished up.  We were heading back to our offices.  I found a colleague sitting in my chair in front of a TV behind my desk.  He was hunched over and didn't turn around when I asked what was going on.  Without taking his eyes away from the burning building, he said his wife called to tell him a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  I stared at the TV screen, unable to look away.

The image was so removed from anything I had seen that my first thought was, "It's going to be really hard to fix that building."

But then there was the second plane.  I watched until the buildings fell.  Nothing would get fixed.

From our office, we could see the smoke bellowing from the Pentagon, where another attack had taken place.  There were rumors that the White House or the Old Executive Office had been hit.  Almost everyone left the office, heading out into slow streams of cars leaving the city, armed with no knowledge and no expectation of what the day's events would bring.

I was dating Eric at the time and he took the Metro to my apartment in Van Ness.  Two of my friends had come over because they could not cross the bridges into Virginia where they lived; and the four of us spent the day watching the news and talking to family and friends who were calling to make sure we were alive and safe.

By early evening, I was going stir crazy.  I had to get out.  I walked onto Connecticut Avenue and it was a ghost town during rush hour.  No cars, no people.  Just quiet.

During the stretches of time I think about September 11 too much, I also think about all the people (like my children) who did not go through that day, and wonder if they will try to figure out the reasons and consequences of the attacks and feel the gravity of that day.  I don't want them to be unnerved by it, but to empathize and acknowledge.  I think most of us do that with horrors throughout history.  I cannot, for example, fully feel what both sides of my family went through after the British left India, and the great migration and all the violence and bloodshed that took place between India and Pakistan.  But I know how it affected my family.  I know how it changed their lives, and the struggles that ensued for years for so many people.

There are parts of the world that experience days like September 11 multiple times over.  There are people who are unnerved by the details of a horrific day, but how unnerved are they by the tenth or 20th horrific day they've experienced?  To this day, when the time is 9:11, I think of September 11.  When I see or hear an airplane in the sky, I think of that day.  And when I walk out into a morning with a bright and cloudless sky, I think of that day.

And, of course, today, I think of that day.

* The photo above was taken by my father the weekend before the September 11 attacks.

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