[Pic of myself on the Empire State Building, 12/1999, newspaper pics from 9/12/2001, purchased in Reno]
Eighteen years ago to the day, my ex-h, James, and I were in Reno. We’d driven the 8 hours with our then-2 year and 10 month old daughters, Julia and Livy, to combine James’ business trip with a visit with my mom, who’d driven from California to meet us. Courtesy of my sleepless daughters, we were awake early that morning in our Nugget hotel room with the TV on, and when the South Tower started crumbling it looked—at first–like an innocent puff of dust from one small area high-up. And I can remember thinking the very same thing that Katie Couric(?) was saying: What is that?
“What is that?”
And by the end of that day, America knew what it was and we huddled around collective vulnerabilities, humbled by a hatred wherein lives were erased because of the invented reality of zealotry.
That day in Reno, my daughters played at a park that had well-tended equipment placed in a garden setting with those little animals on springs that go back and forth and that spinny thing where you sit on a platform and hold onto bars to revolve into sickness. And while my daughters smiled and laughed, mom and I straddled the two incompatible worlds of children squealing from idyllic fun and people holding hands as they jumped to their deaths, and when we returned home to Salt Lake City the next day, I held Livy in her bedroom in the calm of night, crying quietly as I rocked her from the grief of knowing the world we’d all just relinquished.
But even from darkness there does yet come light.
For into 18 years flew wisdom. That people died that day comforting each other, that heroes ran up endless staircases they could barely even see to save the lives of strangers, and that human beings perished in a field in PA because they offered their own life to try save others from harm.
And that grief and hate could write such stories of humans living ideals far above what any of us might believe we’re capable of allows us to fully see the integrity of the human heart. And that goodness and heroes ever have to die for hate calls the rest of us to live into the completion of their journey—begging the sight of tragedy to allow us to offer hand and word. Because through Time may we hold true to tears of the world where from the wisdom of shared loss, we write ourselves each day into the happy ending of our own integrity.
For that grief is imminent in a world of war and zealotry so to are those who find the strength to rise into altruism. And that we are allowed the sight of their story, move to rock our babies more gently—shedding tears for a waning dream—until out of stories of loss, we find the strength to rise and, each second of the day, become the contrast.
[James’ and I had moved to Salt Lake City in mid-2000, and sold our Burke, VA townhome to Stephen Neil Hyland who on 9/11 was killed at The Pentagon; James’ dad, Bob, also worked at The Pentagon in the very section that was destroyed but part of the section had undergone remodeling and was finished but the furniture and equipment hadn’t all been moved back so Bobs normal office was vacant when the plane hit.
James and I divorced in 2007 and when his brother Steve was deployed to Iraq that same year, the girls and I placed our American flag on the middle pillar of our front porch of 1531 Garfield Avenue in Salt Lake City, and it remained there for the duration of his deployment—becoming weathered and tattered and faded; a hole developing on the bottom, front corner (as even the slightest wind had made it catch on the thorny bushes that edged our lawn)—and when Steve returned home, the girls and I took the flag down, folded the frayed fabric as best we could, and gave it to James to give to his brother.
And that 10 month old baby I rocked that night is now almost-19, and a magic being of light and caring I sometimes call “Fairy Daughter.” For out of that night—and many others—she became the big dream, living to understand complexity and sadness and rising always into altruism. And honestly that something like her came from a moment like that—that night; in that hideous black leather recliner, when I felt such incredulity and grief—reveals more about this world than I ever knew was possible and itself has become part of the 9/11 story.
May those innocents who passed that day and since—from injuries suffered—feel all of our gratitude for showing us what we might be capable of].