When I was a kid, four or five, my parents both participated in a floating mah jong game, or in my dad's case, a floating pinochle game. Once a month, it was at our house, I was summarily banished to my room. I would hover around the staircase, and eavesdrop on the grown-up talk. There was smoking, there was a wee bit of drinking, there was Sinatra on the radio, and a lot of reminiscing - what were you doing the day Kennedy was shot? I'm not sure I knew who Kennedy was (those were the days that I thought Walter Kronkite was the President), or what it actually meant to get shot, but I remember being afraid - of the quiet, the stillness, the sense of sadness - - the sound of clicking tiles would stop, a card would remain dangling at someone's fingertips, and it was if the moment were just yesterday.
I didn't understand - this notion of a moment in time, where everyone shared a collective grief -- and, now, it's impossible not to - and it won't matter if its the fifth year anniversary, the sixth year anniversary, or the 20th anniversary -- the moment becomes today.
We walked to the courthouse, like we always did. My friend, we'll call her E, was telling a story. E was known around the courthouse as the fast talker, never stopping for air, and certainly offering no room for interruption. So, when I got a call on my cell phone, I burried it, and tried to keep up with what she was saying. We walked into the courthouse, and went our separate ways. I checked my voicemail, it was my friend Sue, at the gym, watching t.v. from the treadmill - I think I heard something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center - I don't know if it's true, it sounds like bullshit - let me know if you hear anything.
I went upstairs to the courtroom. Between bitching and moaning about our every day trials and traumas - where's the judge, where's the sheriff, can you get my client up? can you believe I have to try this stupid weed case? I have fifty billion things to do - oh, did you hear something about the Trade Center.
I was at the Trade Center once, in 2000, to buy 1/2 price Broadway tickets in the lobby. After buying tickets, my friend Kathryn and I stood in line for maybe five minutes, to ride the elevator to the top, but I was impatient to get our New York day started - Century 21 was across the street, there was serious shopping to be done. So I said, eh, I'll come back some other day . . .
The rumors were flying. The Judge wasn't on the bench, I needed coffee. I went to the Public Defender's office on the 4th floor of the courthouse. The t.v. was on, the picture was grainy, we didn't have cable. I picked up the coffee pot, and turned to the t.v., and the building went down. Did that building just go down? We all got closer to the t.v., our noses practically up to the glass, between the graininess, the smoke, we said, nah, that can't be . . .
The courthouse closed. We all went back to the office. My office was around the corner from E's - I went in her office, and her officemate, Lee, was in a panic. He had just gotten off the phone with his best friend, who was on the trading floor - get out, he told her - get out. Luckily, she was on the 11th floor, and she did get out.
Lee went to NYC the next week, and he and his friend took the ferry, and went to a firefighter's funeral - on the ferry ride back, they met a group of fire fighters who had made the trip from the mid West - they invited them to dinner. Friends from all over the city migrated to the restaurant, until they had a group of maybe 20 people. At the end of dinner, Lee went to pay the bill - the waitress told him - it's been taken care of - did you see the couple sitting next to you? They heard they were firefighters, and they picked up the bill.
E wasn't so lucky. Her sister worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. I regretted not picking up my cell phone -- that regret is today - would that have been the time difference between one last phone call if she had only known sooner? We know that she was on the phone with her boyfriend much of the time - the smoke, they couldn't see, they couldn't get out . . . E and I aren't close anymore. She works in a different office, but I hear about her occasionally. I thought of her today, and I know, that for her and her family, tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary, plus one day.
E left, and I went to my office. I called my best friend Kathryn, who I knew worked near the Trade Center. Why I was able to get through to NY, when so many other people needed to, I don't know. Kathryn was fine - her company had moved out of the World Trade Center complex the month before, she was on her way home, but she couldn't reach her parents in Kentucky - could I call her parents? I took down the number, and dialed the phone - and I found myself telling perfect strangers that their daughter was fine, that she would call when the phones were working - not to worry. I could hear the relief in her mother's voice - and that moment, too, is again today.
As more news trickled in, I began to worry about my own parents. My parents are retired, and travel often - 3-4 times a year. I lose track - it's a cruise, it's a bus tour, but I always know what day they're getting back, because the obligatory phone call must be made, or the guilt trip that follows will be unavoidable. I knew they were flying, I knew they were flying from the West Coast, and that's all I knew. Luckily, my brother had their itinerary - and, they had gotten grounded on the runway, in Canada. My parents spent the next night in the Canadian airport, but on the next day, families from the area began arriving at the airport, and "adopting" the stranded Americans. And, I know, that my parents will always be grateful for the kindess they received from these strangers, the Canadians.
After four days, my parents, after talk of renting a car, or perhaps taking a train, managed to get a few connecting flights to Harrisburg. My brother and I drove to Harrisburg, and met the plane on the runway, literally. Harrisburg is a small airport, and at the time, it was still an airport where they wheeled a staircase up to the plane, you got your luggage from under the belly of the plane, and your family could wait on the runway. My parents deboarded, and grabbed us - the smell of them is still very much today.
At the time, I was dating a bartender, an army veteran. When I spoke to him, he was throwing his gear in his truck, and heading to Fort Dix. What are you going to do when you get there? I asked, you're not in the army anymore. But, he went, and he was told to go home. In the week that followed, he tried to reenlist, but was told that he couldn't because he was a single parent. The only way to reenlist was for him to get married. He spoke of a distant cousin who might be willing, or an old friend. There was something unspoken in the air between us - my patriotism just could not go that far - I was not going to marry a stranger in an act of craziness brought on by an insane act. And, that was for the best. He's now married to the perfectly right person for him, and instead of reenlisting in the army, he became a fireman.
Sometimes, I'm conflicted - about just who I am, how I identify myself. Of course, on this blog, it's easy - I'm a knitter. But so often, being Jewish and being an American does not equate to being a Jewish American - it's harder than that, complicated. Growing up, I was one of four Jews in my class. I sat out of chorus, or any other overtly religious school activities. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood, and our house was the house on the block the priest would skip. We were sore thumbs, and we were other.
9/11 was a few days before Rosh Hashona. Services were solemn, and they were packed. Some wanted the comfort of a congregation. Some, to pray, to be embraced by faith. Some, wanted answers. The Rabbi approached the podium. Would we say the shema early? Would there be a special prayer for peace? Is this a moment of silence? He motioned for us to rise, and he played the national anthem.
And that feeling, is also today.