The terrible events of September 11, 2001 have set nearly everyone I know to writing, perhaps as a way to make real the inexpressible shock and sorrow of witnessing such destruction. The hijacking of planes, the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, the deaths of thousands of Americans and unlucky travelers from abroad, shown over and over from every possible angle on every channel on every TV: how does one cope? One like me, living in my quiet city in the Shenandoah?
We were having a meeting when someone stuck their head in the door. Two airliners had struck the World Trade Center; they had been hijacked. We had a TV brought into the conference room and watched, astounded. We saw the towers collapse, live on CNN. Afterwards, I went outside to smoke a cigarette. The day was clear, the sky a brilliant blue, the angle of the sun just beginning to hint at the coming autumn. Looking northwest, my mind's eye expected to see the smoke over the horizon, smoke that was billowing into the same azure sky hundreds of miles away. I got very little work done.
I talked for a while with a good friend when I got home from work. I telephoned my girlfriend. And after listening to the President that evening, after getting drunk and falling asleep on the couch, after waking up with a stiff neck and going to bed (after another half hour of grim news), it was morning again. Another workday, following my father's advice that everyone should deal with it by getting on with their lives. So I did-I did my job, I went home again, I wasted the evening looking at Websites and reading instead of working on my thesis. I stayed up too late.
I lay in bed and thought about how tenuous everything in this life really is. All you have, I told myself, all you can really keep forever, is what is inside you, and nothing else. Friends and family will die, houses will burn, possessions and pets and all the rest can be swept away by the hand of God or men. I thought of those I love and why I love them. I thought of all the memories I carry with me. And now I am thinking of the songs I know, the one poem of mine that I have memorized.
When I was a child I had a cross hanging in my room. My mother told me that it kept evil spirits away. I asked her once if the American Flag, which I also had, would keep the evil spirits away, too.
"If you believe in it," she said.