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When the Smoke Clears and the Tears Dry

September 8, 2010

My husband and I came to visit our son in New York in the Spring after 9/11. As a young film student, he had chosen NYU “to be at the center of the world” and for several months, I believe he was. We weren’t allowed into ground zero, but stood in front of the church nearby, where the gravestones had been knocked down and some smashed. Posters and photos, tee shirts, bottles of beer, flowers and many many mementos were affixed to the iron fence bordering the church graveyard. As we waited in line for the ground zero viewing, we were struck with the display of affection and notices of “loving wife, mother of three” all along the way.

I’d had coffee once years ago in the deli downstairs, shopped at the bookstore in Tower 2, put a dollar in a bucket for a guy playing the guitar in the subway station, bought chocolate bunnies in yellow cellophane for my kids at Easter at the bakery, on previous visits to the City. The station below the towers was a city of people most of the time.

The sky was gray and it still sent a chill to see a plane overhead as we approached the gaping hole in the ground. We thought about the Broadway show we would see that evening, the shopping we needed to do for our son’s room. Anything to take our mind off the experience we were going to have–looking into the big hole in the ground. I was scared. I glanced up to examine the tree we were standing under still filled with debris. Though it had rained many times, a gray sticky dust clung stubbornly to the bark, along with pieces of white strips of metal and a brown stringy material that hung like moss in the bayou. When I looked at the debris closer, I recognized the twisted pieces of mini blinds, whirled into a shape like a giant cluster of grapes or a five foot bee hive. And the brown mossy material? Shredded pantyhose.

I will never forget that day. I waited my turn, and then looked into the hole like looking into the fires of Hell itself. I was so grateful I didn’t know anyone who perished there. But I was wrong.

My high school friend, Naomi, valedictorian of our graduating class, was giving a presentation at the top of the Windows on the World restaurant for a Jewish women’s charity. Years later my friend Chad, the exchange student who flew all the way from Algeria to Palo Alto for our high school reunion in 2006, and who told me his face glowing, how he held the joy and love of America in his heart, “I carry in my heart a little piece of California,” was killed at the UN bombing there later in the year.

I grieve for the senseless deaths of such good people. Those are only two of the many, but they were my friends, people I went to high school with in California, caught trying to make a difference. A new category was added to the deaths column in our reunion updates: victims of terror. My how the world has changed for us.

We came home and resumed our normal lives after our visit to NYC, and I didn’t notice the change in my Jr. High School son’s behavior. 9/11 had affected him too. I’ll be honest with you, when he was ready to graduate high school, I was a coward and would have preferred he go play soccer at a college somewhere, marry a cheerleader and settle down. But, at 18 he enlisted in the Navy, and became an elite warrior. And he wants to make a difference. I’m happy to say he is very much alive today.

It was easier to cheer him on in the box as he made those fabulous saves. But I cheer him on every day, and, God willing, he will come home to me safe. And the cycle of life continues. He’ll have a son in a month, and we expect him home for the birth.

I think we all are warriors. Some of us are trained and plan for it. Others are just living our lives and are taken as innocents. The best tribute I can give all of them who died that day, an all those who died trying to save others, is to live my life fully, enjoy the richness and love of this great country, savoring every single morsel of freedom available to me. And to continue to tell the story. And never forget.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2010 1:06 pm

    Sharon, my brother was on the USS Constellation when 9/11 happened. They were doing a Tiger Cruise (siblings and children join the ship and sail from Hawaii back to the home port). So 9/11 hit and they have children on the ship. All they want to do is go to the Persian Gulf and take care of business. They watched the news everyday, not knowing if they should stay on the water, if it was safe to take their children home. We worried for him everyday. He worried for us. We knew once they got back, the kids went home, the ship was restocked, they would be leaving for over there.

    The worry never ends. My brother is retired and living in San Diego. Now, my nephew is with the Army in Afghanistan and my son has joined the Army and is going to Ft. Hood. All we can do is pray and give them all our support.

    • September 8, 2010 3:54 pm

      Yes, the worry never ends. I’d like to think there’s a special Guardian Angel who looks out for all of them, and their families.

      Thank your brother, nephew for me. And your son, again.

  2. September 8, 2010 10:23 pm

    Amen to that, Sharon. Thanks for the great and timely words.

  3. September 11, 2010 1:48 pm

    Sharon, I wish for you son’s safety. Congratz for being a grandmother-to-be. 🙂

  4. George Allwynn permalink*
    September 14, 2010 1:07 am

    I was never to NYC before 9/11 – but made sure I got there after (though it was six years after.) Much of the physical scars were buried in the construction, though the wound was still very much there – evident by the silence and the mournful respect from other tourist who where there.

    I don’t think it matters how many times or when you go to NYC – when you go to the site, there is an eerie feeling, and it all comes rushing back at you like you are still standing in the nude in front of the t.v., doughnut in hand, mouth agape, watching the plane crash into the trade center for the first time and your mind refusing to acknowledge the image as true.

  5. September 14, 2010 9:15 am

    Yes, one of those images I have pushed to the back, but one I know I’ll never lose, and I don’t want to. It will be something we talk about for centuries.

    I came away very glad I survived that one, but knew there was nothing I could do in the face of pure evil and hatred, except live my life as fully as I could, and love my freedom for as long as I could.

    This war will take it’s toll on the innocents. And it isn’t over. When death is worshiped, death comes calling.

  6. September 14, 2010 11:25 am

    Wow, Sharon. Very powerful post. I don’t think I could visit the site like you did without having a total break down. I’m so empathic when it comes to people’s pain, I don’t think I could bear looking at the wreackage and loss of life like that. Heck, I have to change the station when they replay the videos or when History Channel is talking about one view point of another of that day. I just can’t stand to watch it. It literally throws me into a panic attack!

    You’re a hero too – the mother of a soldier. The wives and husbands and parents and family of soldiers are all heros. They are the ones that a soldier thinks about when things get tough and the ones that worry endlessly until they return. The ones that arrive early at the airport to pick them up and the ones that bowl them over when they arrive. It means everythign to a soldier to have family there for them – and that makes them heroes too!

    My Dad and I share a special memory of one of his coming home moments. They had a big party/get together of all the families right on the tarmac where my Dad’s plane was going to land. The plane landed and it was like a scene out of a movie. The soldiers filed off the plane, dropped their gear and ran full speed toward their families — and we ran full speed toward them. My Dad picked me and sister up and squeezed us so hard I thought he was going to leave bruises! My Mom got the biggest kiss I’d ever seen my Dad give her and I don’t think they left go of each other for two days! It meant everything to him that we were there, happy to see him. My Dad and I still shed a few tears in rememberence of that day — mostly because there were so many that don’t get that happy reunion.

    You have it right — honor them by living your life to the fullest.

    • September 14, 2010 8:32 pm

      Thanks, Ana. I’ve followed your stories and your devotion to your Dad, and I have to say it is so touching to read about and means a great deal to me. And it isn’t lip service you give me.

      We came back from a seminar in Las Vegas a month ago, and there was a contingent, like they do nowdays, welcoming home a young man who was done with his service, all the old guys from VietNam and even a few from Korea, and of course lots from the Gulf Wars-men and women. I got my bags and stood there in the line to greet him, and I pretended he was my son, finally coming home safe. Just seeing him come home made me feel better. I met the young man’s fiance while I was waiting. It warmed my heart to see them walk out of the terminal arm in arm, skipping and so excited. I told them to go home and make babies, lots of babies. And not to even consider those that would question his service or commitment (we get them a lot in Northern California), but to just go forward and enjoy the freedoms other sons and Dads, daughters and Moms, paid for with their lives.

      I attend every gravesite coming home now. I like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, when I can walk through the hundreds of waving flags and feel the power of life, and feel so much closer to my son. I thank every uniformed serviceman whenever I see them, I mean I shake their hand and look into their eyes.

      I do believe in meaning and purpose to one’s life. The power of sacrifice and the sad fact that without people who can make the decision I could never make, I wouldn’t have the life I am now lucky to live. I hope that I don’t waste one drop.

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