Brilliant fall mornings hold excitement and possibility in the air.
The newness of the school year combined with the shift in schedules reorient us in a different direction after the slower pace of summer.
Twenty years ago, the crew and passengers of Flights 11. 77, 175 and Flight 93 likely had some version of this orientation as this day began with clear blue skies, and crisp cool air with enough warmth from the sun to make it enjoyable to be outdoors.
Twenty years ago today, my son Johnny caught the bus to kinder garden that bright Tuesday morning so Riley, my eighteen month old daughter and I had the day to ourselves. Sunlight filled our living room, we listened to Mozart and played with some toys that had different shapes that you insert into a ball. I remember so clearly her laugh and my feeling of utter contentment in the moment.
The phone rang. My friend Janice, knowing I would not have the television on asked me to turn on the news right away.
The first plane had hit one of the towers.
It was initially for one moment considered an aviation mistake.
The second plane hit.
At this point many cameras captured this and the moments that happened next. They are forever seared into my memory.
The next thing I heard reports that a plane heading for the Pentagon had crashed with lesser fatalities and damage but catastrophic none the less.
I couldn’t look away.
America was under siege.
Phone calls were made to inquire about loved ones, cousins, friends in Manhattan and in Washington DC. I know folks that survived being in the towers. I know folks that ran crying through the streets of NYC. Thankfully, everyone I knew made it out alive. Not so for many others.
Before I knew it, there were reports of a fourth plane heading HERE. Actually, fairly close to here in Somerset, Pa. about 25 miles south.
I called my son’s school frantic. They asked parents to stay in place and to not panic. They were trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy and assured me that teachers were teaching and holding class as usual. My son later told me that the television was on all day and his teacher was on the phone. I cannot blame her.
My husband called from State College. We wept together on the phone. He heard the news about the plane heading close.
Later, my whole family now at home, continued to check in with loved ones across the country, our hearts ached, we wept, we grieved, our lives forever changed, and the best and worst of us, across the U.S.A. emerged. There were countless tales of sacrifice, and heroism as well as an increase in Islamophobia and the murder of Sikh people across the nation, mistaken as Muslims by severely misguided people thinking these horrific acts to be executed in the name of patriotism.
By this time, we had heard the famous story of heroics where the passengers of Flight 93 commandeered the plane from the terrorists to land in a field, sacrificing their own lives so others could live.
This story, from our neighboring county, captured the heart of this country and the tiny community of Shanksville, Pa became caretakers and part of the support team of the families of those lives lost from Flight 93.
A makeshift Memorial went up almost immediately after the site was cleared of debris and anything that could be identified as human remains.
The Memorial now stands out from the rolling hills of Northern Appalachia and receives close to 50,000 visitors a year.
Twenty years later, in the midst of a never ending pandemic, grief and lament seem present and necessary.
The best and worst of us continue to emerge.
Personally, I contemplate in my heart what it means to be in these spaces of collective grief from 9/11/ to Covid 19 with now more than 600,000 lives lost in this pandemic.
All of these lives, people that are grandparents/parents/spouses/partners/siblings/children/family/beloved friends. It is a lot. I know personally many deaths from Covid.
It is a lot.
The shape of grief in our lives, in our hearts, it can open our hearts/minds/spirits towards one another and can also shut us down in bitterness and anger.
Fluctuating between various stages of all of this is often exhausting, and challenging.
So, I will offer a small blessing for us.
May we ride the waves of grief, anchored in awareness that we and our loved ones, whom we mourn the loss of hopes and dreams, are all held together in a love beyond measure.
May we find comfort and release in the wailing of our lament.
May we find each other and see that we are never alone in seeking comfort and solace in loss.
May we always remember what we hold dear to our hearts about our beloved ones.
May we See No Stranger and honor that of ourselves we do not yet recognize in each other (Valarie Kaur/Revolutionary Love Project).