Against the Silhouette of the Towers

And I turned and saw, and the whole of human history spread out on the vast plain. Behind me, in the darkening mists of time, all was frozen. Still. Set in place, and unalterable now because that is the past. If we will go and walk among the monumental statues, if we will explore the bends and twists and look behind the hidden corners, we may see the undiscovered, but we cannot change it.

Ahead of me, there are only dreams and expectations. Ahead of those, there is the mountain of God. And all of the people in all of the times have been walking toward it.

That is how I think of moments such as the destruction of the Twin Towers, a decade ago. There they are, in their molten, exploding devastation, frozen in time. They sit in the place on the plain which was then our Now. Here is ten years later. Here, I can sit at my desk and look out the window and see the little plane flying up the Gorge, reveling in the last shreds of summer. Then, no planes flew.

That is what I remember about that eerie day. I remember the silence. I heard no trains. On this side of the Columbia and on the Oregon side, the track were silent. Empty. Still. I heard no aircraft, except the military helicopter, flying low at regular intervals. The highways, too, seemed to have stopped. Thousands of miles away, on the other side of the continent, the towers fell and the government was attacked by forces outside our own and one airline passenger changed the possibility of hijacking forever when he decided to do something in the skies over Pennsylvania. And here, at the opposite ocean, all the sounds of careless freedom stopped.

My first baby and only daughter was about to turn seventeen. She was not here. She had moved to the city to go to community college. To live with friends. To start the adult life she didn't want to wait for. The day the planes stopped flying was already surreal for me. My family was in a tectonic shift. The day of silence thundered in my ears as they were already straining for the sounds of danger in the air.

My young teenage boys, sleeping in their beds when I turned on the television to see what the web was buzzing about. It was not yet time to wake them for breakfast and morning routines. It was not yet time to start our school work. Our math and history books were still on the shelf, and in the new day on the other side of the country, history wrote a shocking chapter in clouds of debris and dust and shattered building chasing people down the streets.

Ten years later, these teenagers have begun their lives as adults, and I have learned to pay attention to my own work because they are paying attention to theirs. Their work is no longer my work. This morning, when the small plane flew below the cloud cover, passing from the east and flying toward the ocean on this side of the world, I turned and looked at the moments and days silhouetted against the broken towers. On that day, no school work was done in this house. The television played the images over and over. The news kept rolling in. Outside, there was an eerie silence. Inside, there was immobilizing shock.

And in the days and years that followed, my life has held shocks and cataclysms, deaths and births, grief and joy. The seasons have turned. Our ferocious firstborn spent nearly half of the decade in the army. A year in Afghanistan. A personal decade of change and exploration with which I could do nothing but watch and be ready to listen. Her brothers have taken their books off the shelves and set out into the wilderness on their own paths, and they, too, have adventure stories to tell. They, too, have planted the years with shocks and recovery, fear and courage, people and relationships and loss.

When I see this decade against the backdrop of that silent day, it is easy to pick out the shapes of the darkness and the shadows they have cast. Easy, but incomplete. The darkness of the decade is not the truth because the truth is bigger than that. Turn. Look. See that the lines and shadows and defining shapes have made a form. The towers fell and the earth was changed. Now, here, in this place where the plane flies in the morning sun, the lines hold the blaze of autumn again. Here, now, we can take the books from the shelves and we can explore the shadowy past and we can look to a future no one has yet touched. A decade ago, we buried the innocent. Since then, millions of resurrections have replanted the earth. Since then, my children have been seeding and reseeding, and I have learned to pray.


by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

      ILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
      Shovel them under and let me work--
      I am the grass; I cover all.

      And pile them high at Gettysburg
      And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
      Shovel them under and let me work.
      Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
      What place is this?
      Where are we now?

      I am the grass.
      Let me work.

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