Sunday, September 11, 2011

A California September 11th

10 years ago today Chris and I turned on the TV news as we do every morning at 6AM. A plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Without a cloud in the sky, it seemed clear to me that this was not accidental. We continued to watch, silently. We saw the second plane bank, throttle up and plow into the South Tower live, as did millions of others. Shaking, a small scream...

I immediately jumped out of bed. They're flying planes into buildings. Who did I know who might be about to step onto a plane?  I called my baby sister, who answered the phone with a bleary "Hello?" 

"Where's your husband."


"I'm hanging up. Call him and tell him not to step on a plane."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Just do it. Turn on the TV. Call Fred and tell him not to step on a plane. I'm hanging up."

OK. Powerless. What else can I do? Nothing. I turned to my husband, held his face and whispered: "No matter what happens, we will be OK. We are survivors. We will make it. Together. Come what may." 

Chris went to work and I watched the first tower fall on live TV. I felt for Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric, trying bravely to maintain composure while certainly fearing for their own lives and those of their friends and families on the mortally wounded Isle of Manhattan. 

When the second tower fell, I could take no more and turned off the television to find myself alone in the silence. Unclear what to do, I went to the window and opened the blinds. 2 feet away, a belted kingfisher sat on the fence. He looked right at me and cocked his head, as if to tell me...what? 

Birdwatching has always been such a comfort to me for the simple reason that whatever human crisis I may be going through at that moment, the birds remind me that the world keeps spinning. The sun falls and will rise again. And the birds will go on chirping, singing, and foraging for food. As must we.

At work people brought little TV's and plugged them in at their desks. While we tried to be productive,  we murmured and occasionally gathered round one of the screens and watched quietly.

Starting in the afternoon, fighter jets began circling low over Orange County and the coast every few minutes on patrol, as we have many military bases and defense companies within our borders which were potential targets. This should have been reassuring, but the sound of a jet flying close and low every hour was not exactly a comfort, considering the fact that by that time we had watched the news replay the tape of the jets flying into the buildings over and over throughout the day and into the evening, and of course, noone knew when it would end or where they might attack next. 

That night I had college choir. Throughout the class, those damn jets kept making low passes over the college again and again.

As fortune would have it, the piece we were working on at the time was Haydn's Gloria. The movement we practiced on that night: Kyrie Eleison. Kyrie Eleison roughly translates from the Latin as "God help us." There, on the night of September 11th, 35 frail humans sang "God help us" as one, over and over again.

I've often thought since how grateful I was to be in that place at that time -- singing those humble words as a group prayer, a mantra, a collective plea. No answers. Only silent yearning. 

10 years later, I have little to add except we as humans seem as frail as ever, so on this anniversary I find myself saying Kyrie Eleison. Kyrie Eleison. Kyrie Eleison... 

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