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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My September 11

I thought I'd skip this year. 
That this year would be the first time I didn't really feel so sad on September 11th. But I guess that's something we will live with forever. Listening to the live replay from 2001 just about did me in this morning. So I'm sharing something I wrote back then.

You don't have to read it. Really.
I just had to write it.

But while you're here, I'll share two other blog posts from fellow kids' writers. I invite you to see how they experienced September 11th as New Yorkers.

Elizabeth Eulberg

I experienced it as someone living in New Jersey, married to an airline pilot, with a daughter living in D.C.

As many of you know, I was in Paris on September 11, 2001. I'd gone to visit my friend, Kay, and to mark my very first September in many years that I hadn't started school in some capacity or another.

Now I'm sharing a letter I wrote after I returned to New Jersey. A letter my friend Beth originally posted on her USA DeepSouth website. I have condensed it.  This is mostly for me to remember. Although truly I don't think I need anything in writing. 
Just seeing the news replayed this morning was enough.

Here's my letter, nonetheless.

Dear Friends,
Thanks to all of you who have worried and wondered about our whereabouts over the last two weeks.  All the Scattergoods are home now, and glad of it. Thanks for your emails, they are quite a commentary on what happened. I think I will keep them forever.

The first subject lines from my sister, my friend Frank, and brother Jack, and others are chilling to read: "Where are you?" "Is Jay on the ground?" "Kate okay?"

If this was one of those life-defining moments, a time in history that you never forget where you were, some day my story will sound more glamorous than it is. "I was in Paris on September 11th" sounds very different from the reality.

I went to visit my friend Kay in her student garret, bunk beds and all. She was there studying. I went to keep her company. What was to have been a few days of eating, shopping, practicing my high school French, turned into ten days I'll never forget.

But then, who will.

Kay and I were in a perfume shop in the center of the city near the American Embassy when a Frenchman came in, agitated, speaking rapidly in French. When his story was translated, we didn't believe a word of it. An airplane had flown into two tall towers?

We rushed down the street to the Hotel Intercontinental. The concierge led us to the bar where he'd tuned a TV in to CNN, in English. There we saw what the rest of the world was seeing. We still didn't believe it.

After the horrible confusion of trying to call home to find out if our families were safe-- Kay has kids and a husband who work in the city, I have a husband who flies airplanes for a living-- we realized the phone lines weren't working. We quickly returned to our apartment. In the space of a few hours, all the trash cans in Paris had been covered or removed. The gendarmes on the street now wore bulletproof vests.

We communicated via email at the little internet cafe down the street. We were constant figures, sharing the space with teenagers blasting away at video games. Disconcerting, but our only lifeline back to New York and New Jersey.

My daughter Kate immediately sent word from her office in Washington that she was okay. She'd also called Kay's son, her friend, who worked in the city. He reported that he and his sister were both safe. We breathed a slight sigh of relief, not a big one.

Only later did I hear that Jay had taken off from Newark at approximately 9 AM, flying a Continental flight to San Francisco on that Tuesday morning. As he taxied out onto the runway, he caught a glimpse of United Flight 93.

Jay diverted to Grand Rapids where he spent the next two days trying to get himself, his crew, the passengers, home. He reported that the passengers were amazingly calm when they heard the announcement: "Because of a national emergency," they were landing immediately in Grand Rapids. Everybody picked up a cellphone and tried to call somebody, somewhere. He finally drove a shared rental car back to New Jersey.

It became obvious that I wasn't leaving Paris any time soon. All flights were grounded, and the international ones didn't start back for a while. Once they did begin to fly, my standby status guaranteed I was not going anywhere.

The temptation to make the best of the situation wasn't there. My friend Julie emailed from Baltimore which museums to visit and ice cream not to miss. It was a hard sell. But we tried. And we did have our moments- strolling along the Aquaduct, sampling the Berthillon. As Kay and I walked around the city, we were struck by the sympathy of the normally aloof Parisians. Twice we were stopped on the street by older women who asked if we were Americans, patted us on the arms, and said how sorry they were. A neighbor invited us to watch her TV and translated the news. All the time shaking her head, near tears. We were all shaking heads, near tears, weren't we.

Probably the most unforgettale moment of the almost two weeks happend on Friday, September 14. The sun was shining. I decided to take a walk.

I was drawn to the back of Notre Dame Cathedral, by the bells from the tower. I remembered the little garden from another visit with our friends Frank and Ivy, not long ago. I crossed over to the side of the cathedral to look at the gargoyles when I realized there was absolutely no sound coming from the street. Frightening at first, eerie. Then I saw thousands of people standing in total silence in front of Notre Dame. Heads bowed; some even knelt. Traffic had stopped, and there was no noise. After a few minutes the church bells pealed again. People walked away slowly, heads still bowed. I moved closer to the church and read the sign tacked to the door: Three minutes of silence will be observed at 11:45.

I learned later that this happened all over the world. My friend Keith emailed that her daughter who lived in London had attended a service there. Others wrote that Bishop Gray had preached at a church in downtown Jackson, where they worshiped. And observed that same silence.
I began to feel connected to people all over the world. A small comfort. But a comfort.

When I returned to New Jersey after the planes started flying again, I was struck by the sadness everywhere. No small talk in the grocery store. No one lingering in the library to gossip. Just a sense of sorrow as we hear of more and more friends and acquintances still not accounted for. Flags fly from every house. Last night our town held a candlelight service at the football field. When it was over, people with flashlights, baby strollers, dogs on leashes walked home. Police and firemen in uniforms stood at quiet attention at various street corners.

But it wasn't a parade. There was that same silence I felt at Notre Dame, the same sadness my daughter and sister-in-law tell me is all over the city of Washington. I suspect it is all over this country.

None of us will ever forget where we were on September 11th. Or how much we lost.

When I flew into Newark, finally, the sight of the changed NYC skyline took my breath away. I looked back at the passengers on our plane and saw so many tears. The sky doesn't look right. Well, it isn't right. And it makes us all sad.

September 28, 2001

A year later, I added this to my notes:
Our little town is healing. We lost at least eleven people from Chatham, NJ, and our neighboring towns of Madison and Summit lost that many also. We are on the train line that so many still take each day to work downtown.  Our communities have planted trees at the stations, commemorating "Our friends who left on the train that day and didn't return that night."

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