Ben and Sam's Original Idea for a
9 / 11 Tribute in September 2001
Back in 2003, on the second anniversary of 9 / 11, French high wire artist, Philippe Petit (b. 1949), wrote a sad and beautiful tribute, "My Towers, Our Towers," in which he tells the story of his daring high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, on the morning of August 7, 1974, when high above the ground he crossed eight (8!) times between the two towers.
Petit had been in love with these towers even before they were built, awaiting the moment when he could trespass on their air space, and now he had witnessed their collapse: "Where had they gone? Who besides me knew that, despite 200,000 tons of steel, glass, concrete, and aluminum, the towers were made mostly of air . . . air to air . . . ashes to ashes?" (Wall Street Journal, Thursday, September 11, 2003).
Along with his memories of the earlier days of the towers, Petit includes the sad story of the sudden death of his 9 1/2 - year - old daughter, Gypsy, in 1982. In his grief, he was advised by a priest: "Speak of her in the present tense." This advice stayed with him, and he applies it now to the tragedy of the World Trade Center:
"I close my eyes, I remember, I pay my respect to the victims and their families. That dreadful morning, my towers became your towers, our towers.
". . . gone, yet still standing tall, made of thin air, yet gloriously defying the sunset on this warm late summer evening.
Look at them!"
For connections and coincidences, following Petit's eloquent observations, I have decided to simply re-post the essay that I wrote last year on my daily blog for September 11. I am guessing that some did not see it a year ago, and that others won't mind reading it again. The fact is, these very same recollections will always be my story of that shattering day:
NOT A NORMAL DAY
A moment of silence and retrospection on this saddest of anniversaries. As with the assassination of JFK, we all remember where we were. I was in my kitchen, working on some scrapbooks for my children. The new school year had just started, and I was sorting through the previous year's memorabilia. Such a simple pleasure, so mundane. But many days are like that.
Just a few days before, on Sunday the 9th, my husband Gerry had flown to California for a meeting. Monday night, he had taken the redeye home, arriving back in Philadelphia very early Tuesday morning and, naturally, going in to work a couple hours later, after walking our sons across the street to school. He hadn't been on campus very long before calling to ask me if I needed to drive anywhere that day.
"Only to the boys' piano lessons after school."
"Why don't you call and cancel, okay?"
"Some strange things are happening in New York and Washington."
"You mean the stock market?" Not that finance is my specialty, but that's what came to mind: desperate History Channel images of the Great Crash.
"No," he said. "Some planes have crashed in both cities."
"Are we at war?"
"I don't know. Just don't turn on the TV."
So I called our piano teacher (remember from the other day, scales & Bach). She was fine with the cancellations, as she herself was worried sick, having just heard from her sister who worked in Washington, DC, in a building that was currently locked down with everyone inside until further notice.
Then I called my sister, who also worked in DC. No answer anywhere, but as the day went on, I learned that rather than being locked into her building for the day, she and her husband had been turned away from their parking garage upon arrival that morning and instructed to return home. They spent the long hours in traffic on I-70, very frustrated but safe.
Then I turned on the TV. Then I turned it off again and thought of what to do next. Get milk.
I opened the front door into the irony of one of the most beautiful days on earth: high of 72, low of 72, not a cloud in the sky. Wondering how it could be true, I walked the few blocks to the nearest 7-Eleven (on 2nd Street). Actually, in Philadelphia, it's not called the 7-Eleven; it's the Wawa, which sounds kind of silly until you notice the flying goose on the store logo and realize that "wawa" is an onomatopoeic Leni - Lenape word for "goose" or "wild goose" or "Land of the Big Goose."
Standing in the dairy aisle, I reached for a gallon of milk, then deliberated about taking a second, though I knew we didn't need it. I reasoned with myself: as an act of faith, lets take only one today. Lets have faith that the store will be here tomorrow, that the milk will be here tomorrow, that there will be enough.
Resolved, I headed home, cutting across the school playground on the way. Everything was very close together -- the house, the Wawa, the church, the school. That was a happy urban time when we were able to live a mostly pedestrian life, sometimes using the car so infrequently that we forgot where we had parked it last.
The teacher out watching the students on their after-lunch recess hailed me to ask if I wanted to take my kids home early. I could see the younger one there playing with his friends, still innocent but wary. They must have sensed that something was up. Hanging on to my moment of faith in the Wawa, I answered the teacher, "No, not yet. Just let them have a normal afternoon."
When Gerry and I went over a couple of hours later to pick them up at the regular time, the older one was ecstatic, exclaiming, "All I could think was, 'When's Daddy getting back?' And then I remembered, you were already home."
Thanks to my friend Jan Donley for suggesting a poetry connection that perfectly captures the mixture of shamefulness and gratefulness one feels for being granted an ordinary day, while at the very same moment others are in despair. How amazing and humbling to feel so secure despite the uncertainty:
September Twelfth, 2001
Two caught on film who hurtle
from the eighty-second floor,
choosing between a fireball
and to jump holding hands,
aren't us. I wake beside you,
stretch, scratch, taste the air,
the incredible joy of coffee
and the morning light.
Alive, we open eyelids
on our pitiful share of time,
we bubbles rising and bursting
in a boiling pot.
X. J. Kennedy (b. 1929)
American poet, translator, editor; and
creator of textbooks for teaching Literature and Poetry