Eleven years ago on a glorious not-quite-summer, almost-fall Tuesday morning, we all know what happened.
I was working for the Marketing/PR department at Baystate Health System. We went into Disaster Mode. They sent me over to the hospital's main campus to take notes, as hospital adminstrators tried to finagle a way Baystate could transfer patients to take in an influx of patients from Connecticut so that we could take in extra patients from New York. As I scribbled in my notebook and watched the TV replay the towers falling again and again, I knew. I think we all knew. They wouldn't need to do that. Who, how many, could have survived that?
A few days, or maybe it was months, later I saw the paths of the two planes that hit the towers. The second one flew just south of my city, as I worked unsuspectingly down below, as we all worked, drinking our coffees or breathing in the fresh September morning.
The first plane, the place where it diverted from its scheduled course, the place where the hijacking was believed to have occurred, was directly over the Quabbin Reservoir, over the town and general area in central Massachusetts where I spent my first 10 years. At the Quabbin, the reservoir created to provide water for the Boston area, we would bring cardboard boxes when I was a kid and slide down the steep grassy hills of the dike, laughing hysterically, racing like sleds on snow. After 9/11, they didn't let anyone down there anymore. Most of the trails were and are still closed off to the general public. They have to be sure to protect the water.
I often think of them, those people who had no idea they were about to be part of a dark moment in our nation's history, looking down on the rolling green hills and rivers and scattered New England towns and cities below, desperate for that unspecting world to know what was going on above. But we went about our day for a few more carefree moments, oblivious.
In a strange, illogical way, this used to make me feel almost guilty. And in a strange, or perhaps not so strange way, this fact that it had started right here, added to that feeling so many of us had after September 11: that we had been violated, that something had been taken from us that we could never get back.
Many experienced a very tangible loss when their friends, their family members died that day. For the rest of us, the loss had everything to do with innocence, with the loss of everything we thought we knew. "Everything is under control," Anna Quindlen wrote in an article I saved. "Of course you know it's a lie. But doesn't it sound a whole lot better than the truth?"
After 9/11 I saw the myriad ways we attempt survive in a world not under our control, in a time when our illusions are stripped away.
What do we do? Try to build the illusion back again. The government ensures us that we are safe, that they are doing everything they can do protect us. We try to believe them.
Or what do we do? Throw up our hands and decide to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we'll die. Live and let live, because you just don't know, and nothing may matter in the end.
Some of us harden with false bravado, resolving to fight evil at all costs. This may very well be necessary. But we can't be driven by those feelings alone.
And some of us cling to our faith. Some of us ask, as I have, in the words of James in the scriptures, "What good is it?" Do I use my faith as a rabbit's foot in my pocket, something to pull out in times of dire need to get me through? That certainly didn't help some people on 9/11. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen sometimes to Christians who quote Bible verses. Or is my faith something that sustains me, something that helps me to simultaneously let go of the illusion of control while still trusting in the end that God works all things together for my good?
September 11, 2001 was a wake-up call in very many ways. For me, as I look up at the blue skies once disrupted by the unthinkable, I still struggle with the tension of longing for the past, for wanting to jump back in to the illusion of control, or choosing the harder way: to see life for what it really is, and to not shrink back, but to keep walking on, living the life God has for me, one trembling, thrilling step at a time.