Morning crept softly for me today. I am grateful for this kindness. The last images of my nocturnal reading disturbed me more than I realized, and I slept badly. I hear a quiet whine from the foot of the stairs; my dog insists that I let her out into the dewy yard. A few minutes later, I retrieve the newspaper but do not unfurl it; I have not forgotten the horrible anniversary we celebrate, and I delay viewing today's headline as long as possible -- at least until the coffee finishes brewing.
I contemplate the human tendency to mark our lives' milestones. Yesterday would have been my mother's 84th birthday; a few weeks ago, the anniversary of her death coincided with the birthday of a friend's son. As the timer of our lives tick down to zero, we carve notches on its perimeter. Births; deaths; marriages; divorces. The first day of kindergarten. Auspicious meetings. We measure our lives by the distances between these memories.
As I drove to work yesterday, I tried to recall some sillier events; perhaps the day I got my first leather purse, or when I bought my first car. I can't remember this last date but I do recall the car: A British racing green MG Midget.
I loved that car. Of the two or three pictures of myself that I concede might be pleasurable to view, one shows me behind the wheel of that car, in huge sunglasses, a bandanna tied around my hair. Nothing invigorates quite the same way that a convertible can.
During the time that I owned the MG, I dated a police officer. He worked the evening shift, and our liaisons often began when he finished for the night, just before the witching hour. One Friday, he knocked on my apartment door with uncharacteristic diffidence, and when I opened the door, expressed astonishment that I did so. When I didn't see your car downstairs, I figured you had stood me up, he remarked. My stomach heaved -- yes, I discovered, after frantically dashing down four flights of stairs to the garage, my little convertible had been stolen.
I got it back, and my brother installed a fuel line kill switch. Periodically, I found it a block or two from my apartment. I stopped locking it after I replaced the window twice and the top once, lamenting the savage disregard for its diminutive beauty that could lead a thief to slice the fabric. I finally sold that car to my brother after I burned out the clutch for the third time. I bought a 1970 Chevy Nova, the principal virtue of which was a paucity of moving parts, so that I could, and did, repair it myself.
I drive a Mom-car now, a Saturn Vue, and I do not attach much significance to the anniversary of its acquisition. I strive to cull out the less important commemorations as I age.
But well do I recall sitting at my computer on 11 September 2001, just before 9:00 a.m. My secretary burst through the door of the outer office calling to me, turn on a radio! Somebody bombed New York! With only the Internet available, I immediately summoned cnn.com, just as live coverage showed the unbelievable, seemingly effortless slip of an airplane into the second tower.
Nothing I experienced before or since compares to the surreality of what happened in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania that day. No terror that I have endured; no grief I have suffered; no loss that has confronted me; rises even close to what the families and friends of the 9-11 victims experienced. But others -- quietly, less publicly, and poignantly -- felt pain in the aftermath of the devastation: My friends from Beirut, who turned inward each time they heard jeers directed towards them; my son's playmate, half-Lebanese-American, who got into his first schoolyard scuffle defending his mother, a naturalized American citizen with absolutely no ties to terrorists whom Maher's classmates called by one of the most vicious names, that I will not here repeat.
While it is true that the prejudice inflicted on Arab-Americans cannot truly compare to the loss of a husband, wife, father, mother, or child in the vicious attacks of 11 September 2001, still, that prejudice reflects an awful reality that must be counted as collateral damage. I do not pretend to understand it, any more than I could profess to understand the motivations of the men who steered those planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the earth outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The motivations of the Americans who took control of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania come closer to what I feel -- a drive to salvation, to courageous behavior, to virtue.
I argued a case before the U.S.District Court in Washington, D.C. in late September of 2001. My client wore a uniform, being a colonel in the United States Army at the time, and his attire enabled us to breach the first couple of barriers outside the Pentagon. Still at a distance, I viewed the immense hole in our military center, and the enormous American flag suspended from the building's edge. I had no words to describe what rose within me. My client seemed to understand what quelled my voice. He stood at attention, eyes on the symbol of the country that he loved and served. When I had seen as much as I could bear, he raised his arm in a crisp and perfect salute, and we turned back towards our rental car, still silent, still awash with a curious mixture of sorrow and pride. As we pulled away, a strong wind lifted the flag, and the wide swathe of fabric rippled in the morning sun. I twisted in the passenger seat and watched until the Pentagon, with its horrible wound and that majestic covering, disappeared from view.
"To Absent Friends". Memento mori. We will not forget you.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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