Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This Thing with Feathers--keep it close

Is the hour of unbounded loneliness. This
Is the hour of the self's uncertainty
Of self. This is the hour when
Prayer might be a possibility, if
It was. This
Is the hour when what is remembered is
Forgotten. When
What is forgotten is remembered, and
You are not certain which is which.

But tell me this:
How had you ever forgotten that spot
Where once wild azalea bloomed? And what there passed?
--from "The Place" by Robert Penn Warren

This is my 9/11 post. A few days late and a dollar short, heck probably 20 bucks short but whatz the difference fizzle?

And here is my excuse: I've been ill, terribly ill. I took to my bed for 2 days. I didn't run for 2 days-- is how sick I was. Yes, I came down with the very cold I predicted last week that I was getting on Sunday. Those chills, headache and bodyaches weren't PMS, in my head or overtraining-- well maybe they were a little. But I was really sick this time, I swear. If you don't believe me I can hock something pretty up from the back of my throat or I can show you the tissues I saved with all the gross bloody brown and yellow snot that came out of my head just to prove it. But today I am better. My wellness barometer( a.k.a running) is back on track. I ran an easy ten today. And by easy I mean it was easy, not slow. Don't know how fast because I purposely left the watch behind and didn't check the time but it felt pretty damn good, considering the sin of sloth I was yesterday. Gluttony too, I was that also.

But now that I am well I wanted to do my own 9/11 post. My good friend Dogwood Girl did one. She inspired me.

September 11, 5 years ago, became a day of infamy. It will forever be one of those days where people will ask people from my generation: "Where were you the day the planes hit the towers? The pentagon? And thousands of Americans died and a war was waged and terror rang in the heart of every American?" It is the century defining question just like for previous generations the question was where were you when: Kennedy died? Or Elvis? Or The Challenger exploded?

See I should be able to have an answer for that one, I am that generation but I don't. I don't remember. I can gander a guess that I was maybe watching it with the rest of my 8th grade class and that there was probably some talk about the tragedy but I just don't know for sure because I don't remember any of it. I can't conjure that moment up in my mind. I have to say, I guess, that particular tragedy didn't really ring home for me. Callous as it may sound, I felt a thousand times removed from that situation and not to mention I was thirteen and had boys on the brain, not much else.

But ask me where I was I when Jerry Garcia died and that is a question I can answer. Not that Garcia's death is anywhere on the level with any of those other century defining moments but it was one that did impact my immediate life at the time. I was working in Yellowstone National Park with a bunch of deadheads. It was a very happy and liberating time in my life and I remember it vividly. I remember loving and living each and every day. I savored that time and really lived in the moment. Granted, I probably wouldn't remember or have given much thought to Garcia's death except at the time I was surrounded by so many stoned and distraught yellowstoners. The rally cry that day was "We should get stoned and take acid! Or something man!" Not that I did any of that. Mom. Dad.

I digress, the point here is, in the past I haven't really related much to world events. I never really felt the impact or saw the whole of the big picture. I was the sun in my universe and everything else seemed galaxies far, far away. This, I am sure, made me a shallow, small, and selfish person. It is the truth though. I could try to pretend that I was deeply affected or cared but I didn't, so I won't pretend.

This is not to say I am a changed and profound person today but I am now a parent and in my mind that makes me a card carrying adult and therefore it is my job to care what happens in this world. To know what happens. To be aware. The moment I stopped being the sun in my universe was on February 10th, 2001 when Carmella was born. But on September 11th I realized that this new world view wouldn't hold up either. When that plane hit the north tower I was forced to put my telescope down and had to quit pretending that this other world was so far away and that I was untouched by it.

September 11th is a day I remember, experienced with the world and it profoundly changed my perspective on the world and how I consider it. Part of why I remember it so clearly is that I had my own small own home spun tragedy going on. Of course the events that played out on the morning of September 11th blow my tragedy off the map but I would remember this day regardless, only probably with more laughter, had those planes never left the ground. You see my baby was sick on September 11th and I had been up all night with her, panicked and caring for her. Carmella as a baby was only sick twice. The first time she had to be hospitalized for a blood infection at 4 months old. So every time she so much as sneezed after that I would rush her petrified to the pediatrician's office certain that she had another rare and serious infection or disease and that death was only right around the corner.

The night of September 10th was a sleepless night for me. It was the worst night I have had with either Carmella or Beau. I was up all night walking her, trying to nurse her, comfort her, whatever. I was on and off the phone with the all night pediatric help line. Her only symptom was a fever and a not terribly high one. The nurse talked me down from the ceiling many times that night and kept me from foolishly rushing to the ER. Carmella was refusing to nurse and I was her only food source so not only was I worried, I was also in a lot of pain from engorgement. There is really is nothing worse than trying to force your engorged, leaking breasts on a screaming baby who doesn't want them. They bite you because they are pissed. I couldn't even get her to drink water and she cried all night like a colicky infant. Make no mistake this was not the little newborn howl that merely scrambles your brain but the 7 month old baby I-can-crawl-and-talk-and-scream-as-loud-as-shit cry when I am pissed off --a burst your eardrums cry. I wanted to toss her ass out the window. It was a bad, bad night.

After I managed to get some Tyelnol in her, made an appointment with the pediatrician for the following afternoon and finally--Tylenol having taken effect-- she nursed and went to sleep around 6 am. I drifted off myself a bit later only to be awakened by phone ringing a little before 9 am. It was my mother. I remember being very irritated that she was calling and was about to rail into her but before I could speak she said "Turn on your TV. The worst thing has happened. We are probably going to war." And then click, she hung up. Typical, I thought, wondering at what exactly it was she was being overly dramatic about now.

Obediently, I turn on the TV and see Katie Couric and a picture of the Twin Towers. One them has smoke billowing out from the top of it. I focus on this image, not knowing what I am seeing, what has happened and I am trying very hard to hear what Katie is saying while I rub the sleep out of my eyes. It is at this moment I see a plane hit the second tower. Huh? Is my thought as I draw back and then lean in closer to the TV. What the fuck am I seeing? I am so confused and just fall on my ass from where I am standing, remote still in my hand.

The breath is knocked out of me and I can't react. I am watching and watching and hearing and trying to listen to what Katie and Matt are saying. And so I sit all morning and watch the whole thing unfold. Moving only to get Carmella when she cries. I dress us in the living room. I dress and I feed my child and I listen to the early theories. I watch in horror as people wave flags from the upper windows. I watch, tearfully, as they jump to their certain deaths. Hand over mouth. I answer the phone and talk to my mother and we watch silent on the phone til another call comes on her line or on my line. The horror just continues and I just sit and watch in disbelief as the towers crumble one after the other.

As I watched that day and the days that followed I don't think I could really understand the devastation, really quite grasp the horror--even though I saw it as it happened, it seemed so unreal to me. Even when I went to "ground zero" 9 months later I still couldn't grasp the realness of it. And even now, my mind still can't quite register those images. No matter how many times I see them. They are too unbelievable. Never in my life, and I am a person who worries and can imagine some pretty ugly and scary things, but never once did it occur to me that an airplane could be a weapon against humanity. That an airplane could do so much damage and cause so much fear and kill so many people. Never did I imagine something so terrible could happen in America. Terribleness, such as that, is something that happens in far off places like Africa, India, the Middle East-- places I have never been and for that reason they too never seemed real either.

But this is real and it is so real because it isn't like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. 9/11 is 2 degrees: everyone knows someone who was either directly hurt by the tragedy or they know someone who knows someone who was. It is impossible to live in a bubble from the insane tragedy of that day.

And so I am moved, forever changed by it. My world is not so small. But I want to keep it close and keep it safe and try to fill it for my children with whatever love and beauty I can muster. I wrote this to Carmella in her journal that I kept for her the first year of her life the evening of September 11th:
Know that my knowing you has been the greatest joy in my life. Before you I could not fathom that I would love as I love you. Perhaps I am "over the top" with my sentimentality but when tragedy falls in this world, as it so often does, I am reminded that life is a gift and that I have been abundantly blessed. I am always thankful for my family and that I have never known such tragedies personally. It is simply so terrible to witness them that I cannot imagine the pain I would suffer to lose as so many have lost today. I will have to take this fear of tragedy and hold it healthily in my heart as a reminder to be grateful for the life I have.

I end this post with Emily Dickenson's poem "Hope" and a picture of Carmella one year later at a memorial for September 11th.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without words,
And never stops--at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale--is heard:
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest Sea:
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb --of Me.

Finally, in closing I add "make a little birdhouse in your soul"(They Might Be Giants.)


  1. Excellent post. excellent pics, too. wish I had known toddler Carmella.