I’ve been thinking about how Sunday will mark the ten-year anniversary of September 11th.
Large scale commemorations and broadcasts will grace that day, as they should. But remembering September 11th has always led me down a quieter road, to a little place and time in my life that now, a decade later, seems no more than a tiny speck on my well-weathered windshield.
I remember that Tuesday morning so clearly.
We were living in a tiny rental home that sat sixty rural miles east of Pheonix, on an old military base that had been converted into married housing for students at ASU. At that time, the side of the base to which we’d moved had opened up very few homes for occupancy, so we were surrounded by rows and rows of empty square houses that looked like neatly discarded shoe boxes. The exterior of our little abode was a light pink stucco (my two-year old was thrilled), while the inside boasted blindingly blank white plaster walls that, to me, always looked thirsty for an Italian fresco. The kitchen, however, had been updated, and I was in love with the first gas stove I’d ever used. Even now, when I light a burner, the smell of the new flame takes me back ten years to my snug little kitchen on “the base.”
That Tuesday morning, I padded barefoot across the cool tiled floor of the living room. The tiles were large, flat and gray–like that of a grocery store–and covered the entire house, bedrooms and all. Exhausted from yet another sleepless night with my newborn, I slowly made my way to the cupboard where I reached clumsily for bowls and spoons to make my two-year old breakfast; we’d just moved in a few weeks earlier, and feeling my way through the house was not yet automatic.
My husband had left earlier that morning to catch the forty-minute bus ride to his classes in Mesa, and I was facing another long hot day, alone and inside, with my girls. It was not wholly unpleasant, just painfully quiet. We had moved from Portland to Pheonix just a few weeks before, leaving the northwestern city at its summertime peak: brilliant flowers, shady trees and balmy, eighty-degree days. We had also left both of our families, a lovely circle of good friends, and the colorful bustle of city life. We arrived in East Mesa to one hundred and eighteen-degree days, hardly a soul in sight, and a house that looked like it had landed on Mars. Where were the palm trees and swimming pools of our imaginings? The landscape was dusty, brown and bare. So empty, so silent. We were excited about grad school, but this move had been hard. Especially for me. I missed our family and friends and pretty little city on the river.
But overall, I knew that life was still good. I knew the days would eventually cool down enough to take the girls to the park, that I would eventually make new friends, that I would eventually sleep a full seven hours again. I knew Derrick would eventually get his degree and hopefully, a better job for it. Despite my homesickness, I knew that the future was bright. That thought comforted me every morning when I woke up, that particular Tuesday morning included. I made toast and grabbed a yogurt from the fridge, then walked back into the living room with the intention of telling my daughter it was time to come to the table and turn off the tv.
Instead, I found myself frozen in front of it as I watched a huge skyscraper collapse into rubble. For a moment I thought I was watching some kind of documentary on demolishing old buildings; the destruction looked intentional. But as I sat down, yogurt unopened in my hand, I saw the same events unfold that everyone else was watching on that bright fall morning. And I heard the phone ring and my husband’s voice telling me he was coming home early per the instructions of the university. I was upset, but mostly confused. How scared should we be? What would be hit next? Who else was going to die? Would we? Our children won’t understand that at first, we really didn’t know.
I was thinking about all of this during my run this morning, and how it seemed impossible that ten years have passed since that surreal day. And I was thinking about how small my world was against the backdrop of that day’s enormity. And how my own little life has unfolded so kindly since then, despite the murky waters we’ve all had to swim through. My family’s hopes and dreams have, for the most part, been realized since that Tuesday morning. And I was thinking, as I ran, of what a tremendous thing it is that our society–rumpled and bruised as it’s been–has still provided us with infinite opportunities to chase those hopes and dreams, rumpled and bruised as they may be, too.
And maybe it was the endorphins, but a sudden rush of gratitude filled my beating heart as I ran, and I felt a stab of excitement about the future that quickened my pace just a little. And I thought about our country then and our country now and all of the problems it’s faced in between. But I also thought about all of the good people trying to solve them. And I thought about my little adobe house with my little babies then and my bigger house with my bigger children now and all of the problems that we’ve faced in between. And I thought about all of the good people who’ve helped us to face them.
And I thought about how, when I finished my sunny, sweaty run this morning, I would have the comfort and autonomy to sit down at a keyboard and type out all of these thoughts. And with a deep breath that filled my lungs to soaring, I thought about how I could share those thoughts openly with whomever chose to listen. Because while sharing them I would know, as I’ve always had the privilege of knowing, that I am safe, and free, and home.