Alan Jackson, the country artist, has written a beautiful song entitled “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” to commemorate all that we lost on 9/11. It brings tears to my eyes with its simplicity and honesty.
We all know where we were–I was on the Edens driving from Chicago to Buffalo Grove, listening to my friend Mary read the news on WXRT. When she and her morning deejay partner Lyn mentioned the first plane on the air, it was so unreal, “probably a single engine private plane” whose pilot hadn’t had enough coffee and took a wrong turn. Philippe was in a hotel room in Minneapolis, watching the end of a movie on HBO. My brother was in Ohio, waiting for the plane he intended to catch to go home.
Within moments so much had changed–I pulled into a parking lot and my colleague Dawn yelled to me that a second plane had hit the second tower. As a former government employee, she immediately recognized what was going on and hurried me to a television. Philippe went to the hotel bar to get a coffee and couldn’t figure out why everyone was staring at the television. My brother watched the second plane hit, left his gate, and managed to get a rental car to get home.
But, my childhood friend Jeffrey Gardner cannot tell us where he was or what he did when the plane hit the tower he worked in. All we know about that day is that he didn’t make it out. Knowing Jeffrey, we can assume much more. If he wasn’t killed on impact or severely injured, Jeffrey did all that he could to help others, either tending to the injured, trying to evacuate the building, or just leading folks in prayer.
I know this much: my generation lost its innocence on 9/11. A lot of extraordinary people were killed in the terrorist attacks and, subsequently, a lot of ordinary people chose to serve our country as we went to war. I lit a yarzheidt candle today for Jeffrey; for victims on the airplanes, the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon;, and for the members of our armed forces who have sacrificed in the past 10 years.
And I answered all of Charlotte’s questions. She’s not too young to know. It is weird to me that my students were children on 9/11, that a generation is growing up for whom 9/11 is truly history. I suppose it shouldn’t be: Philippe and I ended the day at the movies, seeing The Debt, a film which deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust. WWII is, for my generation, truly history. So, 9/11 as history shouldn’t surprise me. But, the fact of one cataclysmic day, a few short minutes, changing all we feel about our safety, security, and peacefulness seems so different.
On that September day, I was driving, enjoying the clear blue sky and the sound of my friend’s laughter on the radio. On this September day, I took a 15 mile bike ride with my family (yes, Charlotte, too!), went to a picnic, made a new acquaintance, and spent good time with my husband. And not for one minute did I forget that Jeffrey Gardner was unable to do the same. I dedicate this day to Jeffrey, for whom “good day was as bad as it gets.” He was, simply put, a joyous human and a kind soul. I’m proud that for his short time on earth I was able to call him “friend.”
For my usual Jeffrey post, click here.
Give your kids an extra hug tonight.