Has it really been
eight eleven years? I remember September 11, 2001 as if it were…
…well, as if it were the horribly infamous day that it was.
The morning dawned bright and sunny here in Minnesota. I went for a walk while the rest of my family slept, and brought home a caterpillar to show the children. Its fuzzy little body was cradled carefully in my cupped palm, and the day struck me as full of promise.
It wasn’t long before the kids woke up—tousle-headed and hungry. I had three at that time: Joe was 4, Jem was 2, and Cate was a wee bouncing babe of 10 months. I got to work scrambling eggs, pouring juice, and enjoying the hustle & bustle & noise of my busy household.
At about 9:15, the phone rang. It was my sister, Renee.
“Margie, do you have the T.V. on?” Her voice was filled with urgency.
“No, I don’t. Why?”
“We’re under attack. It’s horrible.”
And so it was. My husband was on his way to work and stopped by the television, briefcase in hand. We watched in silence as the first building collapsed.
“That can’t be good,” he said somberly, and then, “Well, I gotta go.”
(This is perhaps the one humorous recollection I have from this morning. Even in the midst of uncertainty and crisis, my husband was…my husband. He was only gone for a hour, however, as he was working in the tallest building in the Twin Cities and not surprisingly, it got shut down.)
I was left, alone and bereft, to care for my children and to wonder what was next.
I know that most people were glued to their television set that day, but I just couldn’t watch it. I just couldn’t. I needed to distance myself from the horror and focus instead on the three little people that needed me.
My children were a great comfort to me that day. Their sweetness, their innocence…they seemed to embody everything that was right about the world and yet, in a way, made the attacks all the more frightening. I started to watch EWTN’s live feed on the kitchen computer. They were offering a Mass for all the victims, and the comfort of that network was where I needed to be.
John came home and went directly to the office upstairs. He had Important Attorney Things to do—a deadline that he had to meet—yet still. I couldn’t believe his focus. He didn’t watch the TV either. He sat at that desk for the majority of the day, doing the work that was required of him and perhaps finding solace in its normalcy.
Later I was out on the deck with the children when my neighbor Margaret wandered over.
“I tell you,” she said, “I’m clinging to my beads today.” I nodded sympathetically. Normally Margaret was not one to discuss her spiritual life; today it seemed expected.
Then my neighbor made a surprising request. “Would you mind if I borrowed Jem for a while?” she asked. “Just for an hour or so?”
I didn’t mind.
In fact, I totally understood.
Eventually John made his way downstairs and set his lunch dishes in the sink. “What do you think,” he asked, turning to me, “of inviting the neighbors over for a prayer service later tonight?”
“I think that’s a great idea,” I replied, feeling a rush of love for my husband and a sudden sense of duty. “Could I make bars?”
“You can make bars,” he smiled.
John said he would watch the kids so that I could run to the store for some ingredients. (I even remember the bars that I made—they were “Caramel Layer Chocolate Squares” from a local cookbook, North Country Cabin Cooking.) As I stood in line at the grocer’s with my evaporated milk and chocolate chips, it struck me how very surreal it all was. There were TVs set up in the grocery store—they were playing right next to the check-outs—and I thought about how we were all in this together somehow, strangers and yet not.
Everyone just seemed pensive and…respectful. There’s really no other word for it. It was as if we were thinking, this could be it for us. This day could well be our last.
Because for thousands just like us, it was.
Our neighbors began arriving around 7 p.m. and by 7:30 we were ready to begin. John had left it up to me to plan the service, and because we had friends from different denominations, I thought it best to keep the prayers simple and biblical. I read a passage from Sacred Scripture and invited a neighbor to do the same; we prayed as a group; we talked and hugged.
At one point I remarked that this world was in rough shape, but my neighbor Margaret disagreed. Her optimism and faith made a strong impression on me. It was true; we could not give up.
The prayers, the visiting, the coffee and dessert…it was a comforting close to a very confused day. As I tucked my three children into their beds that night to the eerie silence of an empty sky, my thoughts were calm though my life seemed uncertain. Hatred and evil were out there, yes, but the faith and hope of this country were stronger.
Our love did and does see us through.