Thursday, September 11, 2008

Once removed

For the first two week of September 2001, I was vacationing on a small island off the East Coast of the United States. We had neither radio nor television in our rental and we certainly never read the newspaper. We spent our days at the beach and unless we went out to dinner we wouldn’t exchange more than brief greetings and a casual comment about the beauty of the ocean with anyone else. If I hadn’t called my sister-in-law on the morning of September 11 to discuss what to get my brother - her husband - for his birthday I might not have heard about the World Trade Center for days.

But I did call and she told me the Towers had come down and there were rumors of an attack on Washington. I walked into the living room in shock and told my husband. We called the people we knew who worked in Manhattan and made sure they were okay. When the restaurants opened we went to lunch at a bar that had all the televisions tuned to news channels rather than to sports channels and talked about what to do. We considered going home early but decided to stay where we were. We went back to spending our days at the beach. We talked about what had happened and remarked on how even the little air traffic we normally heard had disappeared. On the way home we stopped at the pullout on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and looked at all the ship traffic. We saw a submarine heading out to sea.

The result of all this is that the events of September 11 have always been far less sharp for me than for most Americans. I wasn’t surprised by the news from an impersonal voice on the television or car radio. I didn’t hear about it at work surrounded by near strangers. I don’t have endless loops of the Towers coming down burned into my memory. The contrast between my experience of September 11 and the experience of my neighbors in Northeastern New Jersey is even greater, a yawning chasm.

A few years ago I visited Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. It’s a largely outdoor sculpture garden and a wonderful place. They had bronzed and displayed a poem called “For the Children of the World Trade Center Victims” by BJ Ward. I read it. I cried.

The poem is available online as a pdf here.

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