The other morning I woke up, fed the cats, put on the kettle for coffee and turned on the television to watch the news on MSNBC. I was expecting the usual sideshow—Donald trump’s latest up-to-the minute comment on President Obama’s birth certificate, for example—when what to my bleary eyes should appear but the banner headline “OSAMA DEAD.”
That shocked me awake. What? How? When? I had to know. As I scanned the screen and turned up the volume to find out more, my mind was flooding with emotions and images from the past — 9 years, 7 months and 20 days earlier, to be exact.
I was at work when a good friend called and told me that a plane — no, two planes! — had just crashed into the the Twin Towers in New York City. I couldn’t accept it.
“No,” I said. “Vanessa, that is not true.It can’t be.”
“Martha, I am telling you now,it IS.”
I had already written a column for 9/11/2001, but I wrote another one after I had finally taken in the news.On the occasion of the death of Osama bin Laden, the charismatic mastermind of the horrific event we have come to call simply 9/11, I have asked the editor permission to rerun that column.
Oh what a feeling
Dancing on the ceiling
—Lionel Richie, Motown songwriter and vocalist
I remember lying on my back on my grandmother’s living room floor as a child and staring up at the ceiling for so long that eventually my imagination turned the room upside down and it began to seem that I could walk around up there. The ceiling was high, with ornate moldings. So white and pure was that reversed room, I longed to inhabit it, the way children love to leave their tracks in new snow and artists are said to feel compelled to mark a blank sheet of paper.
Once the novelty wore off, though, walking on the ceiling wouldn’t be any better than walking on the floor. Worse. It would get lonely up there with only ladybugs and clusterflies for company, and think of the inconvenience! The stove, the refrigerator, the bathroom fixtures, your nice warm bed, all would be out of reach.You’d want to come back to ordinary life, instead of ghosting around on the ceiling, looking wistfully down (or would it be up?) on the world you so recently took for granted.
Since the attacks of September 11, we are all strangers in a familiar landscape. We try to “go back to normal life,” but find that normal life is just beyond our reach. Our world has been turned upside down, and in some sense, we are all walking on the ceiling now.
Working in the Birch Store in Keene Valley, I meet lots of people on their way back and forth from the city. I hear over and over again “We just had to get away for a while.”
But we are affected, even if we live in the Adirondacks, and even if, as far as we know, no one we knew was hurt or killed in the attacks. Our world is changed in many ways that we are just beginning to find out about, and we are still learning how we feel.
One man was telling me that he was at the World Trade Center when it came down, and he dug his way out. I started to ask his wife how long she waited before she knew he was alive, but all I could say was “how long — “ before I found myself sobbing.
I mention this only because my reaction came as such a surprise to me. It seemed to come suddenly, out of nowhere, without my awareness. I was embarrassed, but the couple just stood there, looking kind, as if they were used to strangers bursting into tears in the middle of a conversaton.
“About an hour and a half,” the woman said, anticipating my question, when she saw I wasn’t going to be able to get it out.
Many people come into the store wearing litttle flags pinned to their lapels. Flags are everywhere — except where they’re sold out — and I hear about other ways Americans are showing solidarity too.
“Tell in your column how children are saying the Pledge of Allegience in school again,” one woman urged me. “Tell how the contry is coming together again.”
I keep seeing a new gentleness among people, as if we are appreciating each other more. As many people observe, the attacks have brought us together.
The World War II generation, my sister says, is “the Great Generation.” They learned to take responsibility and to get the job done, large or small, at home or abroad, without a lot of bellyaching. The Great Generation are flagwavers in the best possible sense; they are proud to be a part of our great republic, glad to do their part. You can see this in many ways. One thing I have noticed for years is that if you see someone setting out with a pair of pruning shears to trim back a shrub on town property that is posing a danger by obscuring a stop sign, this person is most likely a member of the Great Generation. These people also pick up trash along the roadside during their daily walks and throw it away. Generally speaking, they don’t wait for someone else to do a thing that needs doing.
But, “Even during the Second World War,” one woman told me, “we never thought this would happen here.”
Oh, what a feeling. I suppose Lionel Richie has a point. As long as we’re walking on the ceiling, we might as well dance a little, because we might be up here for a long time.
Have a good week.