That morning at home began much like the delirious days preceding it: a 7:30am awkward and anxious tandem nursing, followed by double baby burping and dual diapering. As a first-time mom, I was adrift in the new-parent paranoia and hyper analysis of every hiccup and twitch — and yet simultaneously entranced by each finger movement and chest-inflating breath, times two.
My treks up and down the stairs were strictly limited by doctor mandate to once or twice a day. After helping tend to the morning’s first baby maintenance session, my husband Scott was downstairs. In a tone I’d never heard him use before (and haven’t heard him use since), a blend of tender concern and clear urgency, he yelled, “Honey, are you watching the news?” I quickly (well, as quickly as one can when maneuvering newborn twins with minimal body control) turned the television to the “Today” show. Shots of a blazing World Trade Center North Tower filled the screen.
In true Elizabeth Kubler-Rossian mode, my embarrassing, sleep-deprived first thought was that surely, the poor pilot must have been killed — entirely in denial that the hub of American business was undoubtedly populated with unsuspecting workers already seated at their desks for the morning. The commentators were reporting the damage was likely caused by a small plane…perhaps a privately owned Cessna. Never, never did I think for a solitary second the inferno we were all beholding was an intentional impact. An intentional impact. Before that day, unimaginable.
Minutes later, as we watched, the second plane, looking nothing like a Cessna, plowed headlong into the South Tower. From upstairs I screamed, “Honey! Someone needs to call the air traffic controllers in NYC! Somehow they’re misdirecting planes into the buildings…another one just hit! Another one just hit!”
Unaffected by the tag team of horror and twin-delivery intensified hormones, and nowhere near as naive as I, my husband knew to come upstairs and explain what was by then terrifyingly obvious to his — and most other Americans’ — eyes. An attack, here in America.
Chaos and conflicting stories prevailed that morning. Tales of upwards of 50 planes unaccounted for and potentially in enemy hands. White powder delivered to government offices. Estimates of potentially 10,000 dead. Military planes being scrambled. The President was in Florida. The White House and Capitol were being evacuated. A third plane, and the Pentagon — less than 10 miles away from my childhood home — was in flames. The hijacked Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania…charred earth the only remnant.
Within hours, New Yorkers rapidly produced flyers with photos of smiling dads, moms, sons and daughters that were hung all over the city. They were held aloft for the television cameras so that someone, anyone, might recognize the person pictured and provide the reassuring news so prayerfully sought. News that with each passing minute was increasingly unlikely to be heard. Hope-fueled optimism reigned – and slowly, against its will, waned — in the first 24, and 48, then 72 hours. The round-the-clock rescue efforts yielding way too few — hardly any — occupants for the recovery areas staffed and waiting nearby.
Those heartbreaking visuals and so many others from those days are seared forever in our minds. The disturbingly twinkly confetti-like papers afloat around the plane-pierced structures. The police and fire department vehicles with their sirens blaring and their heroes aboard, racing full-speed toward an area that survival instincts would reflexively demand one avoid. Stunned people in business suits running out of buildings. Onlookers screaming, hiding their eyes, pointing, praying, crying. Victims waving — and then beyond comprehension, actually leaping — from the facades of the burning buildings. A personal video from the POV of being pulled into a coffee shop to escape the billowing cloud of collapse, with the audio of “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Al Qaeda training camp videos with hooded practitioners navigating overhead monkey bars. The iconic antenna atop WTC1 descending slowly into an expanding column of dust.
Then, new pictures. Emerging from the horrific aftermath, a surge of patriotism. On our near-daily drives to the pediatrician’s office for twin baby weight checks, ever increasing numbers of flags hung outside homes, offices, stores and from car antennae. Business marquees no longer touted “Buy One, Get One Free” or “Help Wanted;” but instead, proclaimed “We Love You, New York,” “We Will Never Forget,” and “God Bless America.”
The most rote of routines became less mundane. 3000+ families started September 11th as if it were any other day. Re-evaluation of even the most miniscule, theretofore taken for granted aspects of day to day life seemed in order. As I dried myself after a shower, newly acquainted with the word “Taliban,” I couldn’t help but imagine how grateful an Afghani woman might be for my warm, thick towel. Something that could be used for far more virtuous purpose than merely wicking away the moisture from a freshly-clean new mother. An Afghan mother might have nothing in which to swaddle her newborn baby. What if a woman in this horridly repressive culture had twins? How were those women there envisioning our lives? The concept of a burqua was (and is) unbelievably repugnant to me. In those first days with our new babies, unashamedly, I found myself not only immodestly “uncovered,” but frequently bare from the waist up. Did that mean that I, a new mother of beautiful, pure, innocent twins, would be viewed as immoral? Whorish? Incomprehensible beliefs so varied from our own…felt so very passionately, that dispassionately, murderous evil could be enacted under the misguided assignation of martyrdom.
Vividly, I remember my thankfulness, that amongst so many other blessings — in positioning the twins to nurse, they were facing me…and not the future-altering images that filled the TV screen. As an adult, as an American, as a mother, it was my obligation to face those images…and to mourn with those who were mourning.
Yet amidst the devastation, the molten towers’ girders seemed to find reincarnate solidity in heroes whose stories began to emerge — and continue to emerge today.
Forever linked to our family’s personal history, Scott and I pay rapt attention annually to the documentaries, the interviews, the tributes. Each September, our emotions careen from giddy celebration on the 5th, to grave solemnity on the 11th. Then, we move on. Always remembering. Forever united, a family…micro and macro.
Gratitude. Grief. Grace.
cross-posted from Twinfatuation