This is the thirteenth anniversary of one of the most horrific days in American history.
Who can forget what they were doing when they heard the first report? And then the second? And then the third, which for me, clinched it. This was not a small private plane that veered off course, as was the first report I heard as I drove to a meeting at the Jewish Federation building in downtown Philadelphia.
I was listening to NPR (I used to listen to that station. That was before. Before 9/11. Before the uprising by the Palestinian Arabs when my friend was murdered. Before. When I was a different person.) and heard the first calm report of a small plane striking one of the Twin Towers. I pictured one of those little prop planes and could not imagine how or why someone would fly near the City in one of those. It didn’t sound like a huge deal, barely a blip on the mind of someone looking for a parking spot.
When I arrived at the Federation building, there was a sign on the door which said, I don’t recall exactly, either that the building was closed or that the particular meeting I was to attend was cancelled.
Mild annoyance, why couldn’t they have sent an email so I hadn’t wasted an hour of my life driving into town, parking, then getting back out to where I live, in the Philly suburbs? Whatever.
I took the opportunity to walk along the street and went into a store. As I meandered through the aisles, I heard snippets of the radio playing next to the cashier.
Another plane had hit the other Twin Tower. And as I walked over, we heard the news that the Pentagon, the epicenter of America’s defense, had been struck by yet another airplane.
Everyone stared at each other with eyes straining to comprehend, and began moving, like zombies, to the door.
I remember walking in a semi-trance to the car. People were standing on the streets, staring with empty eyes. People sat in cars with the doors open and the radios on.
Residents leaned out of their apartment windows, moaning, as a low wail began to rise in my ears. I still don’t know if the sound was made by people whom I passed, or if it was just the sound of grief and loss – loss of so much, of a way of life, of innocence, of political and global stupidity, ricocheting through my mind.
I called my husband, but he was in a deposition and didn’t answer the first five times I called.
And then I focused and found a purpose to squash back the fears and loss of control that were threatening to unravel me. My children were all in one school building, at a Jewish day school in the Philadelphia suburbs. And there I went, barring the door, manning the desk, helping the new school receptionist who was overwhelmed by the calls of the frightened parents and the demands to shut the school, and the headmaster who was out on a trip for the day with the middle school students.
Living in the world of Jewish day school, at least in the Philadelphia suburbs, can mean that you know every parent and just about every child. You know who has siblings there and who doesn’t. You know how to speak with each parent and you know how to do your best – that’s all you can do – to soothe the fears of Jewish parents who have, for the first time, smelled the whiff – thank God only the whiff – of potential extermination that their parents or grandparents tried to explain but which these parents considered anachronistic annoyances.