Remembering 9/11 - How Blue the Sky Was

Flight 93 Memorial

Author’s Note: I originally wrote Part 1 of this on the 7 year anniversary of 9/11; Part 2, in 2017.  The baby I was carrying when 9/11 happened is now 18 and a Freshman in college. It was a lifetime ago, but I will #NeverForget.

Part 1

I remember so much about that day:

I was getting ready for work and had the radio on, a little before 8:00 a.m., CST. The DJ’s mentioned something about a plane hitting the World Trade Tower and they were watching it on the Today Show. So I turned on the TV, and was watching the video of the first tower. And as I watched, live, I saw the second plane come in, low and slow, and thought, “Oh my God!” And it hit. And I dropped the brush out of my hand and fell on my knees with my mouth open. After about a minute of just staring at the TV with my hand over my mouth, I got up and went to the phone to call my then-husband. He was out of town for work, in Dallas, working at the airport there. He was still asleep, and I woke him up and told him to turn the TV on. Then realized — his brother was a pilot for AA, and started getting really worried. He didn’t think his brother was flying that day, but I told him I’d try to get ahold of him to be sure. I finished getting ready and left the house, got in the car and turned the radio on. I called my then-BIL and was able to get ahold of him. He was home, safe. So that was a relief. On the radio, they were saying that all flights were being grounded, and one or two were unaccounted for. My route took me past the STL airport, and as I drove east toward and past it, I could see the planes all lined up, heading west, coming in one right after the other. And all I could think was, “Get down, birds. Get down.” I know that seems weird, but that was what was in my head. 

I pulled into my parking garage around the time the Pentagon was hit. I got out of my car and walked toward my office, looking up at the bright blue September sky, which suddenly seemed empty. And, even though it was warm out, I got the chills. The TV was on in the office, of course. And we all just stood around it, watching. We’d try to go to our desks and do some work, but it was futile. My MIL called me in a panic, because she knew my office was located next to the Arch. I told her I was fine, but we’d gotten word they’d be shutting our building down, and we’d be heading back home. Watched in disbelief as the first tower came down. Then the second. Then left and started the drive back home, still in a state of shock. 

Just so happens, I was 7 or 8 weeks pregnant at the time. Got home, and there was a message on the machine from my doctor’s office, asking me to call them. I did, and they told me there was a problem with my hormone levels, and I was at risk for miscarrying, so I needed to go pick up a prescription. The realization that my husband was likely to be stuck in Dallas for an indefinite period at that point, and I was pretty much on my own, hit and made me feel very much alone. I got in the car and headed to the pharmacy, and remember thinking to myself how odd it was that it, and the grocery stores, and most businesses were still open and carrying on like it was a regular day. I know the people working there weren’t FEELING that way — it just struck me as odd that, even in the face of this evil, awful thing that was unfolding, we were still plodding ahead with our day. I picked up the prescription and read the warnings, which included all sorts of potential awful things that could happen to the baby, including some mutations. THAT freaked me out. So I called the doctor’s office and they reassured me it was okay to take the medicine. So I did. And I sat down on the couch and watched the endless coverage, and wondered what kind of a world my child — assuming he or she would be okay — would be born into. And I cried.

I was thousands of miles away from the destruction of that day, but I — just as everyone else — was profoundly affected by it. And it’s easy, almost 7 years later, to forget just how much, to forget all that was lost that day. We can quibble from now until the end of time over what actions since then were appropriate. And I’m sure we will. It is, perhaps, the largest political football of our lives. But we should never, ever, ever forget that day.

Part 2

One of my most salient memories of September 11, 2001, is how brilliantly blue the sky was. My attention was fixed on the sky for much of that day – even after the planes were all grounded, I kept looking up, warily searching the sky for signs of further attack; beseechingly searching it for answers. I’m not sure what you call that color – cerulean maybe? Whatever it is, it’s beautiful. And it haunts me. Its brightness contrasted so drastically with the darkness that clouded that day.

Several years ago, as I reflected on the day, I wrote:

There’s a lot of focus on the remembrance this year — as there should be. But, honestly, it’s hard to look back. To see the photos and the video, hear the audio. To remember the terror and overwhelming sadness of that day. It cuts down deep in a way nothing else I’ve experienced has. Like a psychic wound.

In June 2014, I had the opportunity to visit the Flight 93 Memorial with my family.  Like the bright blue sky of that sad, sunny day in September thirteen years earlier, I found it both beautiful and haunting. There’s a hush in that meadow. The wind whispers through it, a barely audible chorus of sadness and loss, but also of love. The day we were there, the sky was fittingly gray and somber. I was an utter failure at holding back the tears as we walked along the memorial wall, looking at each of the names of Flight 93’s passengers and crew and the flowers and mementos others had placed there for them. This one, in particular, broke my heart:

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As fate would have it, my travels took me through Pennsylvania again today. With it being the anniversary, I was hesitant, at first, to return. But as I drove nearer, it felt wrong not to. I steered the car off the highway and along the winding back roads that lead to the memorial. There were quite a few people there, of course, but there was still a hush as I descended the path from the new visitors’ center to Memorial Plaza. Except you could hear the chirping of the crickets and cicadas among the wildflowers:

It reminded me of the eclipse – both eerie and cool to hear them singing like that in the middle of the day. Of course, it didn’t grow dark today, but the sky was hazy and muted, rather than brilliantly blue.  I walked along the memorial again, pausing at each of the names. I spoke with a gentleman from the Park Service while there. He said it was extra busy today (understandably) but they have visitors every day – even in February. The families sometimes ask, he noted, and are gratified to know their loved ones aren’t forgotten. “They’re not,” I said. “We remember.”

I was hoping to make it to my destination in Ohio before nightfall, so I couldn’t stay for long. I began the trek back up the path, looking again to the sky.  And there I saw the strangest thing: I regret that my camera doesn’t do it justice but there was a glowing ring of light in the sky with a rainbow/prism on one end and a reflective light on the other.  I verified with park personnel this is not from any light they shine at the memorial – it just appeared there.

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I hope some of the family members and loved ones there today saw it, too, and received some of the same comfort it afforded me. The sky didn’t offer any answers when I searched it sixteen years ago. Today, it did.