Ten years ago

Grace watched some cartoons yesterday morning while I unpacked groceries in the kitchen.  She must have seen something on TV about the 10 year anniversary because came bouncing downstairs and asked, casually, “Mummy, what’s 9/11?”  I stopped in my tracks and looked out the window at the gorgeous, unbelievably saturated blue of a sky that was exactly like that day 10 years ago.  My mind wheeled.  We had recently talked about the 9/11 attacks and about Osama bin Laden, and I grasped for what specifically I had said.

I turned to look at her.  “Remember, Grace, when we talked about the day the planes flew into the buildings?” She nodded.  “Well, that happened on September 11th.  9/11.  10 years ago today.”  She looked at me, somber, thinking.

“Why, Mummy?”

“Well, Grace, the people who did it really hated America and they wanted to hurt and to scare us.”

“Why do people hate America?”

I struggled with this answer more than any other.  I told her about how we had freedoms in this country – about what we say, what religion we practice, who we love – that other countries don’t necessarily share or agree with.  I don’t know how fully she grasped this, but she tried.  The conversation veered to the specifics of the day.  She wanted to know how the pilots were overpowered and what the people on the plane did, and then what it felt like to be in the buildings.  “Did they know they were going to die?” she asked me, and my eyes filled with tears.  I have no idea.  I can’t answer that, I told her honestly.

Later in the day Grace had more questions.  She wanted me to assure her that she would always be safe on an airplane.  I said I couldn’t do that, but that the odds of a problem were incredibly low, lower than those of a car crash.  Then she wanted me to promise that I would always keep her safe in the car.  I said I swore I would always try, but that those are promises that I can’t make.  She looked at me, her desperate wish that I could promise I’d always keep her safe vivid, unmistakable in her eyes, and impossible.

I hugged her and told her, whispering into her hair, that the world was full of risk, but that we still had to walk out every day and see all the grandeur that was there, too.  We stood on the front porch and I pointed to the outrageous blue of the sky.  “See, Grace?  Like that.  There is so much beauty in this world.  I promise.”  I wondered if I’d said too much, though I will never forget a lesson my father taught me about risk being an inherent part of life when I was just a bit older than she is.

All day long I felt sad and melancholy, remembering 10 years ago.  I remembered on my  morning run that day thinking of how I had to call Hadley and John to wish them happy first anniversary.  I did call, but to say something else, and I never got through, because circuits to New York were impossible.  I remembered standing in a conference room on the 31st floor, watching the words “Boston high rises being evacuated” scroll across the bottom of a screen.  I remembered the friend from work, Beth, with whom I spent most of the day (including a long way home from Boston because we were afraid of getting on the T).  I remembered the night before and eating dinner on our porch with Quincy, eating the just-unfrozen top of our wedding cake (which we’d had the night before for our first anniversary) for dessert.

Most of all I remembered that Matt had been undecided whether he was going to fly out to LA the night before or that very morning on flight 11.  I remembered the voicemail I saved for years, where he said “Hey, my meeting got out early, so I’m going to run to Logan to try to get out tonight.”  That bleak ghost had brushed against me and I felt its chill in my spirit.  I also felt, then and again, yesterday, the deep knowledge, guilt and gratitude mixed together, that there are others on whom that fog had descended permanently.

The veil between the mundane and mysterious details of our life and the horror we can’t even bear to imagine is as thin and delicate as a cobweb.  The risk is unavoidable.  And the sky is so, so blue.


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13 Comments

  1. Posted September 12, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Hearing your close-call story about Matt gave me chills as I read it. I wonder how many times in my life I’ve made minor decisions that, unbeknownst to me, turned out to be the biggest ones of my life. Also, I really admire the candor with which you answer your children’s questions. I’d like to think that, as Abra gets older, I’ll take the same tact.

  2. Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I’ve been remembering, too – the horror and the shock and the unanswerable questions. And yet – you’re right – the sky is still so blue. So fragile and yet so powerfully beautiful.

  3. Ana
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Wow. Beautiful post.

    Funny how everyone remembers the cloudless blue sky that morning. “Out of the clear blue sky”; that phrase always evokes this memory. I was halfway across the country and we had a gorgeous blue sky as well.

  4. Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    “The sky is still so, so blue.” You are a brave mother. Your children will have courage because you do.

  5. Trish
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I remember that morning so very well it was a brilliant blue morning skill with not a cloud in sight and it was so warm. A beautiful day weather wise. I thought of this again too about how yesterday’s 10th anniversary echo that Tuesday. It felt like yesterday. So glad that Matt flew out on the 10th. Grief and grace can be two sides of life’s fickle coin.

    Trish

  6. Posted September 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Your words in your last paragraph carry the sounds of an echo. So true, haunting, and beautiful. Thank you for sharing this conversation.

  7. Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    How fortunate your family was to have missed that fateful flight.

    I spent the morning yesterday with my two boys (who were too young to understand at the time) and watched the play-by-play footage that CNN’s website provided. I wanted them to see it – for the sake of knowing the history of this nation and how and why things are as they are today. Maybe it’s the history major in me – but I felt they needed to watch it to understand the depth and meaning of the day.

  8. Mylene
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    It really inspires me to read your blogs and how you write it almost everyday. I like this entry of yours about 9/11. Very touching.

  9. Posted September 12, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I get the Matt part. Greg was here – we were still living in Chicago. He didn’t get home for a week, and I didn’t believe he was alive until I saw him. Very surreal…

    No wonder it’s hard to explain to Grace – there are some concepts that are beyond explanations…

    Beautifully said and woven, Lindsey. Thank you.

  10. Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Wow. What a close call. Puts in all in perspective. And yes, I loved that yesterday was the same exact kind of day. After I said that out loud for about the 20th time, my son was like, “They said the same thing on the memorial service on TV, mom.” Oh.

  11. Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh Lindsey, in tears right now. I still remember the morning I heard of the attack. It was (and still is in some ways) unbelievable. Even though I am half a world away, with American family and friends, and all the similarities that NZ and the USA share, I think we all felt similarly vulnerable and shocked.

    I love and admire the way you explained things to Grace with heart and honesty. Much love to you and yours across the ocean.

  12. annie
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Oh Lindsey,

    I had no idea you had such a close call on 9/11. Your words are beautiful and inspiring. It’s always a treat to see a new post on your blog!

  13. Posted September 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Oh my gosh Lindsey. Oh. I have chills knowing that Matt could’ve but didn’t get on flight 11. “That bleak ghost had brushed against me and I felt its chill”. One of the most powerful sentences from you I’ve ever read (and that’s saying a lot).

    xo