Monday, September 11, 2006

When I'm Sixty-Four

No book today, folks, just deep thoughts.

When I'm sixty-four, some child will ask me where I was and what it was like. And I'll tell them.

"I woke up and I knew something was wrong." I woke up around 8:30 Eastern time, before the first plane hit, and I remember that I had the distinct feeling something was off-kilter. I don't know if it was as strong as I remember it being. Maybe I want to tell myself that I knew something was wrong, because how can we have lived those last few days, minutes, hours before our safe little world was broken and not have somehow known?

"My roommate ran in the house and up the stairs and told me with tears pouring down her face, that somebody had flown a plane into the Twin Towers and that it was an act of war." An act of war. I remember those words verbatim. I have not lived through war. I've never lived through that kind of vulnerability. At least, not until that morning.

"I remember that the sky was blue." It was so blue. So blue, in those CNN shots of the wounded skyline. The only cloud in the sky was the thick, greasy billows of smoke boiling from the towers. You felt as if it should be pouring rain, tears from heaven, but the sun shone.

"I remember that we set aside that hymn in Latin class." For about a week prior, we'd been translating some medieval hymn that went, "Let us rejoice, for tomorrow we die." We were mid-hymn, but after that day, the prof set it aside and none of us saw it again.

"I remember that the President finished reading his book." I don't have a lot of respect for the Commander-in-Chief, I really don't. But what little I do have is because I remember the news reports that the President was reading to schoolchildren when the plane hit. An aide ran in and, whispering in his ear, informed him of what had happened. He listened, maybe nodded, and turned back to the book he was reading aloud to finish it before he left the school, probably to go right to New York.

I wonder what the book was. I wonder if the children understood, or understand, that they were that close to history.

"And the Lord God wept." I want to find a copy of this article. Sometime just after, the Onion ran a special issue called "Holy F---ing S---, Attack on America!" I depend on the Onion to reassure me that the world is as usual, that nothing is so serious that it cannot be satirized. In the main, the articles were satirical Onion stuff. But there was one called "What Part of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' Do You Not Understand?" As can be inferred, it was God yelling at humanity, but the last line was what brought on the waterworks. It went something like, "At this point, the Lord God broke down and wept."

It's not particularly coherent, or even that deep. How much use will these little scraps be to that child I tell them to? How many pages will it take up in their required report for school? Will they understand how drastically everything changed? Will they even understand what the world was like before we knew such a thing was possible?

We say we won't forget. And we who lived through it and understood it won't. But the children don't understand, not in the way we do. They called this the New Pearl Harbor, and it was. It is. But Pearl Harbor to me is a distant piece of history, something that happened to other people. To my children and grandchildren, 9-11 will be something that happened to other people. They'll never know was it was like to live both in the before and the after.

God willing, they never will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here you go: