Corona Chronicles: September 16, 2021
Corona Chronicles XXXVIII
Twice, eight years apart, my phone rang a few minutes before 9:00 a.m. on September 11th. In 2001, it was my neighbor, Hannah, calling.
“Turn your TV on!” she screamed, her panic filled voice sent shivers through my body.
“Why? What’s happening?” I demanded.
“Just turn the damn TV on!”
“Any frigging channel. It’s on all of them. An airplane just frigging flew into the World Trade Tower.” I clicked the on button on my remote control.
As my TV screen lit up, the horrifying image of a jet smashing straight into the upper floors of the North Tower made me gasp.
“Oh my God, Hannah. What happened?”
Good Morning America anchors, Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, struggled to make sense of what was happening. In silent shock, we watched the replaying loop of the crash footage comingled with live shots of the inferno raging inside the tower, as minutes ticked off.
Then, Diane Sawyer announced officials had determined the plane was an American Airlines jet that had taken off from Boston on its way to Los Angeles.
“What?” Hannah and I voiced in unison, as we both realized that for that plane to be in New York City, it had to have traveled hundreds of miles off track. It also meant that many of the passengers on the plane were from the Boston area, possibly even someone we might know. While we were trying to process this new information, we noticed a second airplane enter the frame of our TV screen flying directly toward the undamaged twin tower.
“No!” I screamed as the jet pierced a gaping hole in the South Tower, out of which gushed an enormous orange fireball.
“How can this be happening? This isn’t an accident.” I shouted.
It wasn’t. Neither Hannah nor I could tear ourselves away from watching the unfolding tragedy. That night I cried for a world turned upside down, for the thousands of innocent victims, for the people who lost their loved ones and all the children who lost parents. None of us would ever be the same after that day.
In 2009, it was my mother calling. I had just begun my morning tasks at my job in Cambridge.
“You need to come to the hospital right now.” My mother begged. “The doctor called and said Dad could pass any time now and we need to come right away to say our goodbyes.”
Although he had fallen ill only two weeks earlier, I knew Dad’s condition would eventually be terminal, but he had been stable for the last few days. I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye. My first thought on waking that morning had been relief that at least the day my father died wouldn’t be 9/11. That tragic day already had enough grief ascribed to it to last for generations.
“Please, you’ve got to come now. Your brother and I will meet you at the hospital. Please hurry!” The urgency in my mother’s voice was compelling.
I hung up the phone, put my head on my desk and wept. During the longest hour of my life, caring work friends drove me to the hospital where my Dad slowly was slipping away.
Other relatives arrived to give dad’s hand one last gentle squeeze or place one last tender kiss on his cheek. My mom, my brother and I lovingly watched over him while angelic background music calmed the melancholy we were all feeling.
I sat flustered unable to fathom how this could be happening. How in one instant Dad could be here and the next gone forever. Only when I saw the pink fade from his cheeks, leaving in its place a faint blue hue, and his chest no longer struggled to expand, did I realize how achingly deep my loss was.
That night, I cried for my world turned upside down. I would never be the same after that day. More than ever, I felt an intimate personal bond with all the people who had lost a loved one, with all the children who had lost a parent on September 11th, that most tragic of days. We, will never forget them.
Excavating my Desk
Hasn’t been seen for years.
Bills, piles of poems to work on,
current student’s folder (needs work, moves to top),
lost pens and pencils, a thumb drive (what’s on this?)
That’s the top layer. My parents’ wills,
and mine (unfinished draft), pads of scrap paper,
undated notes-to-self, incomprehensible now,
unreturned phone messages from two years ago,
envelopes marked URGENT – FINAL NOTICE,
handwritten letters from last century.
Receipt for a new toaster oven, maybe 1990.
Clipped recipes (cooking with cream of mushroom soup).
Baby pictures of my kids now in their 40s,
one of me on a tricycle.
Some copies of my birth certificate.
Passport renewal form (expired now),
my grandfather’s obituary (a mining engineer,
worked in Mexico and California).
Picture of my parents toasting each other.
My great aunt’s book of her own (bad) poetry,
and Oh, look! that key I thought was stolen.
Emotions are hard to evaluate or explain. Sometimes they don’t make sense until years latter. My first experience with trying to make sense of one occasion was in 1995. I had mailed two photos to a Virginia TV station for a contest of having my work judged for their next calendar. Out of 100’s of entries, both of mine won. What do you say to yourself? Wow – congratulations – What – now really –
Then yesterday, September 7th, as I was starting to write out a check for my cart of groceries at Hannaford’s, a woman steps up to me and says, “It’s taken care of.” I looked at her in confusion, what’s she talking about? The woman hands her credit card to the cashier and the groceries are paid for. How does your mind process that? A blessing – what now – Really – guilt – who are you –
It is hard and confusing to be a Winner. Why me – there are many more deserving – are you sure – it is shocking – how to process this –
The least I can do
no matter which barbarians are at the gate,
monsters of debt collection,
pretenders of religious pamphlets, or
ogres — bearers of bad news.
I can make the bed,
no matter what I cannot tackle,
piles of laundry,
unsorted mail and unpaid bills,
dirty dishes piled up.
Whether the phone does not ring,
because the kids do not call when I wish they would,
because nobody calls when I wish they would,
or the phone rings
because the kids are heart-broken, or unable to cope,
or because someone is sick, or dying,
or because my doctor has some concerns about that last test,
the bed, at least, is made.
Whether the radio announces
power outages likely,
or just another long storm,
it will not affect the bed.
I may not haul out the vacuum
or face the “to do” list. Still,
I can make the bed.
I can haul the mangled mess to the floor,
shoo away the cat, toss the sheet straight,
brush out folds and wrinkles,
pull blankets up, fold over the topsheet,
stretch out the bedspread, aligning
chenille flowerbeds with corners,
so that here, at least,
this small corner
will be today’s victory,
no matter how minor.
Who is to say this is minor?
I can always
make the bed.
Photos by Doug Chamberlin
Thoughts for the Day
I’m glad I understand that while language is a gift, listening is a responsibility.
A harmonized mind produces harmony in this world of seeming discord.
You can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.
The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Courtesy of Gratefulness.org