I remember the sky. So crystal and clear and blue and quiet. I remember stopping under it and thinking - this is the day no planes would fly. The sky stretched across the nation that day. It was no longer just a Midwestern sky. It pulled from the east, the west, the north and the south. It expanded and retracted and became unstable.
I remember the staring. Long after the towers had already collapsed we stared at time as it was replayed for us over and over and over again. We stared at the instantaneous deaths of thousands. We held our breath with their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, sons, daughters, grandparents, lovers and friends. I remember the staring. Searching time as it took place and the buildings fell. Searching it for what it was telling me. History happens and so many of us blink it away.
I remember the feeling. I felt a purpose. I felt a purpose for every life. As the names scrolled across the screen, as I watched strangers stand in front of lights and cameras and refer to their loved ones as 'missing' when most of us felt as though we were in on a sick joke - aware they were most likely not...missing - I questioned. How many stories would so many people miss out on now? How many memories of Christmas will never be shared? How many laundry lists of little mundane details...things that were meant to be passed on once people returned home. How many little observations were supposed to be discussed at the dinner table.
There is more that I remember. How I stared into the back yard cornfield of the building I worked in at the time and felt fear. Worried that menacing ground troops would emerge as if we were in the jungles of Vietnam. I quickly calmed. We weren't there. We were in our own era now.
I became immediately taken over by September 11th, 2001. When I made a visit to the city a few months following the attacks, I felt an intimacy. Reporters and writers have had their moments... Vietnam, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Auschwitz. I felt September 11th was an awakening to my own. I was and continue to be obsessed with New York City. My visit felt like a coming home. I was comfortable. At east. I felt as though I had put my hand on an open wound. And in truth, it fueled me.
Now my life consists of a rather tumultuous relationship with time. I was not able to cover 9/11. I often feel if I had - I would have never stopped. I would have dug at every corner, every angle as if I were digging at the rubble itself. Instead, I was forced to start in the aftermath. Because history, is not history if nothing happens - and it is quite inevitable something will happen again. It does every day. Another plot will be foiled, or carried out. An icon's time will end, like Diana or Hepburn. A new facet of American life will be revealed to those who have chosen to ignore it. Class, poverty and race are already back into the news in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
But for what I assume is many of my generation - 9/11 was the beginning. The wake up call. The reminder that history books can be rewritten at the altered fates of many.
I remember the day the skies were quiet and a united cry rose to fill them.