Same job, different uniform.

Monday, September 11, 2006

It is the End of That Day.

I remember walking into our lovely, anachronistic office in the old white building opposite the Court House in Alexandria. Don was in his high-backed leather chair, leaning forward; Tucker stood near the desk bent over the radio. I had walked to work that day and I must have been running late because I hadn't seen the news.

"A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City," Tucker said.

I had heard, vaguely, of the World Trade Center. I couldn't possibly know what that meant. Just five miles from the Pentagon we discovered it had been hit. While we huddled in our office.

We tried to call out. They tried to call in. One way or another everyone found out that everyone else was okay. Everyone in my little universe.

Don left a voicemail for me to come over to his house to be with him and his wife. "Be safe," he ended with. I went. I was. I didn't erase that message for years.

Upstairs in the bedroom of my strange and cozy duplex I clung to the image of Peter Jennings. It was a kind of morbid fascination. What would happen next?

We barely worked. We knew nothing else. When the President asked us to attend worship that Friday afternoon, I was there, nestled beside strangers.

I have never felt more insulated from crime than I felt that first week. Who would touch me when we were standing together against a common, fearsome enemy? I would be wounded, I told myself, at the first shot fired in a random act of violence. (There were to be many shots fired by psychotic killer and his "son" just a month or so later. I was cold with fear.)

I snapped photos at the draped flags. We three hung our own. I promised I would never forget.

But I have. And I do. I asked someone today what the date was.

"What are days for?" the poet Philip Larkin asked. We used to know the answer to that. Days were for living, for working, for the rituals of normalcy that make up the way of life we have come to know as American. These days had their ups and downs; they had their surprises and shocks. But they had as well a sense of reliability or modest predictability. We barely noticed these small moments of routine that, strung together, formed the ballast of a culture: the commutes to work, the family outings, the plane rides to friends, the coffee breaks and household chores. They acquired a rhythm that, although we easily forgot, took a revolution to begin, a civil war to resolve and dark and bloody wars to defend.

This normalcy was not the same thing as freedom; but it was quietly dependent on it.

Wrote Andrew Sullivan in the aftermath. And I have never forgotten it.

That was what September 11, an important Day, meant to me.

Now a day means the normalcy that is not the same thing as freedom. But it is still dependent on it whether I remember or not.

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