Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I was asleep on September 11, 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Center. Julia and Jay called me. I think Julia called first, waking me up, and telling me what had happened, and then Jay beeped in.

I turned the TV on and watched a bit while I was on the phone. I remember being astounded to see the film of the second plane hitting the building. There it was right there on tape.

I can't imagine any work got done in this country that day. The TV was riveting and I couldn't take my eyes off it. The big holes in the buildings, the worrying and praying for the people on the floors above the hole. I thought all the people on the lower floors could walk down and would be saved.

But it was horrible. Beth called, so disturbed about the people jumping. I told her what I thought about it. That those were lucky ones. They had decided to take their fate in their own hands. Not accepting the awful end that had been planned for them but deciding themselves what it would be. Also I had heard that people who have attempted suicide by jumping off bridges and who then have survived have described the fall as exhilarating and euphoric. So these people chose their fate and then did not suffer.

Still the scenes were awful beyond belief. Then the plane hit the Pentagon. At first reporters in Washington saw smoke across the Potomac.

After that we wondered what else was going to happen. How many were there? I don't know when we heard about the plane crashing in Pennsylvania. Julia called me several times to ask Is that all? Do you think it's over? I hope so is all I could answer.

Then the awful moment when the first tower fell. It fell. To this day I can hardly believe it. If I were a fiction writer, I would never have made this up. It would have seemed too wildly improbably. Then the other tower fell.

All the dust and debris. People running for their lives, covered in ashes. Rescue workers going the other way, into danger.

All planes were grounded. To this day, I am amazed at how well this calamity was handled. I would never have thought to ground all the planes, but now it seems obvious. All in all, althought some mistakes were made, I am proud of my country. Proud if the way the people in New York and the government handled the crisis. And the people in the rest of the country reponded. Anything they needed, we gladly gave.

It became more than I could handle so Julia and I decided to go to the volleyball game at the high school, which was still on schedule.

At the school, the talk was of gas lines, and how high gas prices were going to go. After the game, many were going to line up to fill their tanks. I thought it was silly. I was not going to wait in line to save a few cents and, if the supply of oil was cut off, one tank would hardly make a difference.

My brother James was at the game, taking pictures and writing it up for the local paper. As he left the game, he later told me, he saw a jet trail being left by a plane he could see above the American flag at half staff. How sad and proud it was to know that was a military plane, guarding the skies.

None of us knew that day what was ahead. How we and the world would react. And that pilot in sky, what was he thinking, what was he looking for, what was he dreading.

AFter the game, I went back home and watched more TV. I watched TV 16 hours a day for three days. I could not get away from it. The evil of the perpetrators and the good of the rescuers.

Then it was too much. I could not watch it anymore. Just could not, but that was all that was on TV, and when it was turned off, all I could think about was the trajedy.

I needed something to do to get my mind off it. I went through my old video tapes and took out the ones of Joan Rivers selling jewelry on QVC. I watched these tapes for hours. So silly and inconsequential, I laughed and it helped.

The first football game after 9-11 was the Mississippi State-South Carolina game in Starkville on Thursday night, the week after. I had heard they were going to be collecting money at the game so I took my contribution and dropped it in cash in the Red Cross bucket as I went in. Getting a tax deduction for it seemed too trivial to bother with.

(I think we lost the game.) There was a tribute at half time to those who had died, and especially for a Mississippi State graduate, an officer at the Pentagon, who had died.

Last year my sister Julia, nephew Jay, and I went to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the plane crashed. It was a rainy and rather dreary day. The site is way out in the country. However the route is well sign-posted, and I understand that the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll booths will give out maps of how to get there.

The road is bad, but for a good reason, so many people have been there to pay tribute that the road is full of potholes. Some have said there is not much to see there. That is true in a way. All you can see is a mound of dirt off in the distance but it is the meaning, the significance we give this place, that is important, not the actual physical sight. This is where Americans fought back.

There is a gravel parking lot and a fenced area where there are many, many tributes. A long, 15 foot high fence covered with flowers, hats, stuffed animals, and everything else that people feel compelled to leave. Then there are real tributes, with concrete footings, and bronze plaques. From all over the world.

The people of the area have formed a volunteer organization to help visitors. There is always someone there during daylight hours to help people. I enjoyed talking to the volunteer that day and I am very impressed and pleased that they have done this.

The National Park Service has bought the land for a National Historic Site. They will fix it up and build an Interpretive Center. I much prefer it as it is now. People's heartfelt tributes there on the ground and a volunteer who really cares.

I urge everyone to write up their own account of what happened and how they felt on September 11. Do it for your grandchildren.

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