9/11 - DAYS OF WAITING
It was a day that was like any other.
As is my pattern, I awoke early, just after 5:00 am. Going through the motions of morning, I brushed my teeth, threw some cold water on my face, and decided
that there was no need to dress for the day. The white cotton nightie with yellow ribbons offered me modesty in daylight while maintaining the casual comfort of
a woman who could work from home. A trip to the kitchen for that first icy Diet Coke and then to the computer to check overnight email. Nothing pressing ... nothing
out of the ordinary.
I opened the curtains and blinds to reveal the dawning skies of Arizona with azure, lavender and pink clouds hinting at the promise of Fall. Summer still lurked over
the desert southwest and the steady white noise of the air conditioner and whir of the ceiling fan lulled me into complacency. After settling comfortably in my living
room, a soft pillow at my back, I turned on the local early morning news for my overnight update on the carjackings, shootings, assaults and robberies that seem to
prevail here in the metro Phoenix area. I watched the weather report with hope and anticipation of cooler days to come.
After the bevy of auto commercials, folks selling cat food, and promises that this product or that will make you prettier, slimmer, sexier or richer ... the news
resumed. I do not remember the story the morning news anchor was reading ... but I remember the moment. That moment.
"I am just getting word that a small plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and in a moment, we will be switching to the CNN coverage."
I sat waiting.
Live coverage from CNN began to reveal smoke and flames. Was it possible? Surely, I thought, the sprinkler system will put out the flames. A small plane into a
building that size is manageable, yes?
I watched. My fingers worked the TV remote constantly switching from network to network from cable news station to cable news station. News. Now. I needed
"We are learning that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a commercial airliner."
I stood up and began to pace in front of the television, eyes transfixed on the image of the building. The smoke was billowing upwards and with it, I sent prayers to
all the gods who would listen and hear my words: Help those people. Help them.
I was praying to a Heaven ... not knowing of the Hell that was to come.
I was staring at the screen in disbelief when I saw the second plane hit. The beads of perspiration that dampened the nape of my neck turned bitter cold against my
skin. My body began to shake and I could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. I could hear the blood coursing through my veins. A steady stream of tears
found their way down my face washing away the comfort of the day, and ultimately, washing away the complacency and security I had known all my life. These
tears were just a prelude to the thousands of tears and miles of tearstained traces that were to come.
"....possibly numerous planes are hijacked ...." "...getting word that a large plane has slammed into the Pentagon ..." "... there is a chance that the United
States is under some sort of attack ..."
The words all became a blur. They were distorted by the panic and hopelessness I was experiencing. Wait, I am alone ... so alone ... what should I do?
"... another plane has crashed. We are hearing now that a plane has crashed into a field in Pennsylvania and this could be related ..."
I phoned my Mother here in Phoenix; she was still asleep. "Mom, wake up. Mom, I need you to wake up. Can you understand me? I need you to clear your
head and listen." I explained what little I knew. I told her to get to the television and watch. I phoned my brother Bob, also here in Phoenix, with basically the
"Janni," he said, "Please stop crying. It'll be okay." Yet somehow, we both knew the truth.
My phone became a lifeline that tragic morning in September as it connected me to my friend, a young mother of two, on the East Coast. She too, was alone
watching the horror on television - her husband at sea courtesy of the military. It connected me to yet another dear friend on the West Coast, who I had to
awaken with the news that our world had changed while she slept in the dawn's light. It kept me connected to a special friend who was working in an office without
immediate and continued television access; he wanted the details, which I attempted to convey, but instead found myself constantly choking on my words. It connected me to my oldest brother in Washington State and he had already been awakened with the news. We simply told each other, "I love you".
Here I was, hundreds of miles from the sites of these horrific acts of violence ... and yet, each breath I took burned in my lungs because of the terror I now
understood. I did not question "why" this was happening because I knew the answer could not be discerned as reasonable, could not be fathomed ... did not exist
in a logical world. Instead I questioned "how" this was happening ... and how did the smoke from so far away burn so deep into my soul, my lungs and leave an
acrid taste in my mouth. The taste of fear.
I watched the World Trade Center buildings fall. I saw the smoke, flames and destruction at the Pentagon. I learned more about Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
I sat waiting.
Yes, I waited. I waited with the world. I waited for words, images, explanations. I waited for survivors. I waited with confusion, anger, hate, sadness, fear, and
Sleep taunted me and I chose to ignore it. It was easier to look at the images on the television than to live the images in my nightmares. My appetite left as I fed on
information. I do not think I showered for two, perhaps three days after that Tuesday. I wanted to suffer. My heart was aching, the hopelessness was consuming
me, and the tears flowed. I felt that if I left the television, I might miss the rescue of survivors. Watching hour after hour was my contribution ... perhaps my
penance. I had to wait. I did it for them. If I expect it, it will happen, yes? I sat waiting.
As I watched the hours pass through the day, into the night ... I began to experience a new, changing self. This was not the metamorphosis of a chrysalis on its
way to wings. No, this was a formerly happy, confident woman becoming a terrified, insecure, sad soul ... becoming obsessed with the unknown and associating
every life event with fear. And I hated myself for that fear.
The people who perished or were injured on that morning of 9/11 did not have the opportunity to understand their fear. It was not an option. They did not have a chance to wonder
what would happen next. They could not spend time thinking it through. They did not know their apocalypse had come.
I knew, however, and this knowledge was like some sick gift of inhumanity given to me wrapped in the gilded paper of fear and tied in ribbons of guilt.
How could I lay in the clean, cool expanse of my comfortable bed when there were people trapped in the bowels of the earth far beneath the rubble? No, that was
simply not acceptable. How could I sleep in the quiet of my desert home when people were, just hours before, screaming for help when the buildings were burning,
when the planes went down? I was guilty for their terror: I could not imagine a fear so deep, so dark ... so hot against searing flesh ... that people would jump from
high rise windows knowing that their free fall was their destiny.
I could not eat. I could not drink. I felt that it was inappropriate that I took nourishment or stayed hydrated while others were waiting ... hungry, tired, thirsty and
scared ... waiting for rescue. That is what my mind believed; somehow holding that thought comforted me.
Time passed. I sat waiting. The families and friends appeared on the scarred streets of New York with flyers ... the photos and descriptions of their loved ones.
Each flyer, each flower left at the wall ... they put a human face on the unthinkable.
"Have you seen this girl? She is my daughter. If you see her, tell her I am looking for her." Humans seeking their own, drowning in a sea of disappointment and
frustration in waiting for a word. One word: alive.
I wanted to reach into the television and offer them a shoulder, perhaps a strong hand to hold, or a tear to cleanse the reality from their souls. With each story, each flyer ... I wept. I wept for their lost souls, now apparently free from the bonds of earth. I wept for their families and friends who will forever be chained to the
pain of loss and longing.
Eventually the words went from "rescue" to "recovery". Days turned into weeks. Weeks into months.
And now, those months have become two years.
The true horror of that day reveals itself in its absolute measure: 2,645 persons perished in and around the World Trade Center with 87 passengers and crew on
American Airlines Flight 11 and 60 passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 175 dying as their hijacked planes turned into missiles of destruction. At the
Pentagon, 125 persons died on the ground and 59 passengers and crew on American Airlines Flight 77 died as they too, were hijacked and flown into a building.
In a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 40 passengers and crew members died on United Flight 93 as their plane was hijacked and flown into the ground.
3,016 lives extinguished ... thousands of lives changed ... irreparably altered forever. The balance of life now inexplicably disheveled and left struggling in upheaval.
Eventually the sacred stories of heroism began to emerge: the remarkable number of firefighters and police, and the many, many civilians who unselfishly gave their
lives trying to help the victims of hate, and the everyday people who were determined to not let their plane fly into another building but instead moved towards their heroic
destiny with two words, "Let's roll."
Time has numbed the wounds of guilt for me as logic and distance have reminded me that I am not "The Great Puppeteer" and as such, I cannot change the world.
What happens ... simply happens. But time will not allow me to forget the vandalism of the security and safety of a life I thought I knew. I refuse to allow the
arrogance of complacency to once again seep into my life.
Sure, life goes on. I have resumed living in the here and now. I do not obsess and spend hours each day thinking of 9/11, nor do I spend hours contemplating the
very nature of human beings that can allow some individuals to inflict acts of terror on the human family. However, I do frequently think of the consequences.
9/11 caused a ripple effect on the tide of humanity and the ripples shall never stop. Some say that we should 'still the waters' and allow the remembrances to pass.
Some seek vengeance. Some cry "foul" with political aspirations and arguments. I can only reflect on the phrase that "still waters run deep" ... and the depth of the
loss on that ordinary day in September runs deeper than we may ever truly know.
At 5:46am this morning, with reverence and humility, my head bowed in honor and remembrance for all that was lost, I cannot help but go back to those hours, days, and weeks ... time passages of hope and hopelessness ... and remember that I sat waiting.
|| BACK TO JOURNAL ||
Copyright September 11, 2003 - 2007 © sweetaspirations.com / Jann J. All rights reserved.
With sincere appreciation to Matthew for his superb editing assistance.