Life Notes: Innocence Lost
Revisiting the morning the world changed

On the night of September 10, 2001, I couldn’t sleep. My husband and I had been agonizing over the idea of selling the house we love, but had listed because it was just too big. And a buyer had surfaced.

We were tormented, sniping at one another as this real estate issue became our universe. I got up first the next morning, ambled down to the kitchen, dazed and sleepless, and ultimately turned on the kitchen TV.

I was alone, and so out of it that I thought the images I was seeing were a preview for some disaster movie. It took a little time for me to understand what I was seeing was reality. I remember rushing upstairs with one thought in mind: I had to find my husband to verify that the World Trade Center had been attacked.

In an instant, selling our house receded to some out-of-the-way brain cells, and we realized three people in our immediate family were in New York City – our daughter Amy and son-in-law David, who were newlyweds, and our son-in-law Michael, whose office was directly across from the World Trade Center in another skyscraper.

Can it really be 15 years since that morning when, like so many other frantic Americans, we lost our national innocence on a day when the sky was that rare pure blue it seldom is, and the sun was especially radiant.

In our household, the phone was our total focus. We begged God to let it ring back as we sought to reach the three New Yorkers – and everyone else we loved.

Why the phone? Because in 2001, all progress aside, it was still our connector. And it was silent for what seemed like hours. Time, in a crisis, is a senseless, amorphous thing. It is “out of joint,” as Shakespeare once observed. It certainly was for us on 9/11.

And finally, two of the voices we needed to hear… David and Amy, just three months into marriage and wrapped in hope and joy, located one another and then reached us. There were tears and the kind of laughter that is actually hysteria of a bizarre kind.

But Michael. Where was Michael?

There is no way to describe that morning when Michael was among the missing for us. I do remember closing the den door and calling out his name as I sobbed and prayed.

And then, at last, there was the familiar voice on the phone of this man we had known as a boy, who had swept Nancy off her feet on their first week of college. Safe on a ferry out of the financial district and into New Jersey. I replay that golden September morning in dreams, hearing Michael’s shaky voice before the dream lets me know that yes, he is safe, he is still with us.

I know – I know – every family has its story. And ours had a miraculously happy ending. But let me hasten to add that “happy ending” is a relative term. Since that September morning, we are markedly different people living in an unalterably altered country and world.

Nothing will ever be the same. Not when some of us still awaken each day wondering what the morning news will bring, how close to home it will hit and how there are now immutable markers in our country’s psyche: pre and post 9/11.

Fifteen years. All those days and weeks and months. All those prayers of gratitude, all those profound fears, all those tears for what was and will never be again.

This year, September 11 falls on a Sunday. And while it may seem foolish, I’m making it known I want to spend that day with my loved ones. I want to hold every one of them close. And while it’s not officially Thanksgiving, I will remind them it’s the right time to give thanks.

September 2016
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