The Silence

The thing I remember most from 9/11 was the silence, the utter complete silence of the day after. The silence of no air travel. Realizing I hadn’t noticed how prevalent the sound of planes were until they were gone. And since then, if I hear a plane that’s just a bit too loud, or see one that feels oddly low, I watch it. I follow it through the sky, I wait for it to clear and move on into open airspace.

I was on the west coast, and in high school, so we didn’t get much information in real time. And NY felt so very, very far away. I’ve still never been there. The towers falling, the images of people jumping – I’ve seen these things a hundred times since then, but on that day those images were mostly horrific, shocking, and fascinating all at once. I wasn’t living it, I was witnessing it from a distance. Like a car crash while you’re driving past. I never felt threatened, these things were happening to people who weren’t me, and who weren’t anyone I knew.

But after watching and sometimes avoiding and sometimes seeking out the anniversary coverage it feels like there are two experiences happening all at once. The grief and traumatic response of those who lived through it first hand, and everyone else who experience it as a frightening reality of what could happen to us, as Americans, if we’re not paying attention. I feel more sadness today than I felt 10 years ago. I feel more fear today than I felt 10 years ago. I’m, of course, older and have a greater understanding of the world, of how it works, of how fucked up it can be, of how easy it is to die. How simple of an act it seems. How, in an instant, you can be here and then not be here. That scares me. It scares me that people just went to work… just showed up like they (and we) all do every day … and absolute fiery hell descended upon them. Knowing that that happens, here and elsewhere scares me.

I watched the interviews with the widows of men who were on flights or in the buildings struggling to breath. The idea that I would get a phone call from Kamel in his last moments is torture. That is my torture. The idea that I could be in the position of those people trapped or on hijacked planes, calling home as the world disintegrates around them chills me and makes me never want to leave my house. Ever.

On Sunday I checked cnn.com a handful of times at different intervals just making sure that nothing else had gone on. That no one had succeeded at murdering more innocent people, that the country could just get through this day without more tragedy.

Kamel and I talk about what would happen if anyone attempted another hijacking today. How we’re sure that no one on that hypothetical plane would stand for it, that the hijackers would be taken down by an angry mob, that it wouldn’t last 30 min. Kamel said today that he would be the first one up. Like, “Oh helllll no.” I said I would be the second.

I’m sure we’ll witness more bad things happen in our life time. I’m sure when we have kids my fears of things no one can control will reach new neurotic levels. I’m sure that good people outnumber the bad people in the world. But I’m not sure what that means or how that changes things.

18 thoughts on “The Silence”

  1. I watched the CBS special on Friday night where the woman was talking about talking with her husband right before he died and how she said “I think its time to say goodbye”. I was sobbing.
    I kept thinking about your post earlier about how you fear losing Kamel more and more now that you’re married and couldn’t imagine being in that woman’s position.

    It’s just too sad for my mediocre words.

  2. I couldn’t watch those shows. I couldn’t. How could you end that call? How could you be calm and loving, and not begging them to get out somehow, to save themselves, to stay.

    It’s something that makes me sick to my stomach with grief for what-may-be. And makes each day that much more precious.

    1. I feel like it’s an out of body experience. It must be. Like you’re comforting them by not being a total freaked out wife. Because in that moment, it’s about them… dying. Or doing something brave and scary. And Then later it’s about grief. I hold tight to knowing that we are all stronger than we think. We have to be. Otherwise how could anyone survive this?

        1. “The idea that I would get a phone call from Kamel in his last moments is torture. That is my torture.”

          I’m torn between if getting that phone call or NOT getting that phone call would be more horrible. It’s probably a stupid thing to think about because no matter what your heart is going to shatter in your chest and the only difference would probably be the shape of the pieces.

          1. This is what I was agonizing over… and yes, I was listening to the recordings and transcripts of phone calls (and the storycorps recordings, which are beautiful but painful) until my heart couldn’t take it any more, it felt like a physical ache, and I felt morbid for seeking out other people’s painful stories.

            It’s hard not think about whether I’d want the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one, even if it meant that they, and I, knew they were imminently dying. How would I even know what to say? “I love you” seems so inadequate… I think that every morning when B kisses me goodbye. But it seems to be the best we have.

            I didn’t have the chance to say anything when I lost my dad, couldn’t even remember what we’d said the last time we’d spoken before he collapsed… some mundane conversation about meeting for dinner the next day. Did I even say I love you before we hung up? I don’t remember, but I hope he knew it anyway. He never regained consciousness… so although we said our goodbyes, he couldn’t hear us by that point, it didn’t even seem like “he” was there anymore. This is shattering in wholly different way. Thing is, we don’t often get a choice, it just happens. And yes– it almost makes me sadder to know that we are all stronger than we think, that you just get through it, that the loss is carved into your heart, but its… edges soften with time. But it’s something to cling to, I guess.

    2. The phone calls and voicemails! Gah!! The tv channel i was watching that day kept playing a collection of them, those are the worst! Soo hard to listen to. I sob when i hear them…i could NOT imagine. Im with you Lauren when you say the idea makes you never want to leave the house,ever. AND keep your loved one locked up too.Ugh!

  3. Yes I remember clearly seeing those images live on TV, and I did not really fully understand that it was real, it couldn’t be real ( I in Geneva then, so it also felt very far away). But what scares me the most is that these things keep happening, and radical groups of whatever kind (like what happened in Norway) slowly growing like a cancer are there.
    I don’t even want to imagine getting one of those phone calls…

  4. I had a really hard time doing Telemundo’s 4 hour live special yesterday morning, not for the long hours dealing with live television, I do that frequently… It was because I had to direct our breaking news THAT 9/11! I saw 9-11 happening in my control room! We went live just a few minutes after it all started so we saw the rest of it in each and every one of our 73 monitors! Horrible experience.

  5. “On Sunday I checked cnn.com a handful of times at different intervals just making sure that nothing else had gone on.”

    Oh man. Me too. It was a very weird day. Part of me was SURE that everytime I refreshed CNN, there’d be something on there. Thank heaven that wasn’t the case…

    Oddly, the thing I remember most from the actual day is arriving to Ecclesiology class and sitting down and just…sitting. I think it was late morning, so enough time had gone by for things to sink in, details to become clear. Everyone was just kind of stunned. And I remember that was the only class that day where we were allowed to just kind of sit there, and let it sink in, and talk about it. Still to this day, my corner desk, and sitting there…completely vivid in my mind.

    1. I was at the dentist that morning, so I got to school late and it felt like entering a sealed space. I remember watching news coverage in french class. But still… was not as troubled then as I am now.

      1. Me too. Probably because, as you say, we’re older now, and can more vividly imagine what it would be like to like to have your life ripped apart like this.

  6. I remember feeling so young and overwhelmed. It felt like one of those “you’ll understand when your older,” moments, except everyone expected me to be able to handle it and I just COULD NOT, for whatever reason, cope with it.

    I’ve run from the footage every year for 10 yrs now, and finally yesterday I sat and watched, hour after hour. And my heart genuinely ached. I cannot even begin to imagine the terror that faced these innocent souls, and possibly even worse, their families.

    The phone calls, I still can’t stand to hear. But I wonder, if I were in that plane, what would I do? I’d like to think I wouldn’t stand for it, but beside chucking my oversized carry-on at them, what would my options be? And if it came to that moment, who would I call?

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