Sunday, September 13, 2009

9/11 then and now

In 2001, I was working in Operations for Alaska Airlines up in Anchorage. My work team was part of the airline industry you never think about - a small group of non-uniformed number crunchers working in a basement room near the ptarmac, far from the ticket counters. We collected passenger, luggage, and cargo counts, figured weight and balance for each flight, directed the loading of cargo planes, communicated weather, gate information, and other data to the pilots. It was one of the most enlightening jobs I've had in terms of getting a feel for how a system works...and how much is affected when something goes wrong.

On September 11, my shift started at 6:00 a.m., which was 10:00 on the east coast. I remember hearing news on the radio and being very confused. Is this a joke? A drill? What's going on? I got to work and, of course, everything was grounded. We listened to the radio, waiting. Fearing. Asking how this could be. Tracking our own flights, ensuring that all of Seattle-bound planes had landed okay.

I called Jason. "Honey, sorry to wake you up so early. First of all, be sure and let Beth out this morning; I didn't have time. Also, you might want to turn on the t.v. It looks like our country is under attack." To this day, he gives me grief about my news-breaking prioritization skills. But if I had told him about the attacks first, he would've totally forgotten about Beth! And then who would've come home to a soiled carpet? Me.

It's weird how when tragedy strikes, whether or not it directly affects you, you HAVE to go on with things. You might wish for the world to stop so you can soak everything in and figure it out, but the dog needs let out and you still need groceries. After work, which was much earlier in the day than usual since no planes were flying, I stopped by Carrs grocery on Huffman Street. I watched people walking in the parking lot and thought, "What can we do? Look at us. We're all still walking into the grocery store. Are we lice?" There was a definite quietness to the crowd though, a heightened sense of being, longer pauses looking into each others' eyes. We knew this to be a forever-altering kind of day, even before we knew what in the world was going on or who was involved.

* * * *

On this September 11, my day began with the chickens. Zoralee on my back, I was standing in the yard with the hose, filling their water bin, when Dad came onto the porch and told me Aunt Sue had just passed away. Great Aunt Sue, one of our national treasures, a wellspring of stories about growing up as a sturdy farm hand in Illinois and going to New York City as a young lady. Great Aunt Sue, strong as an ox, they always said, and gorgeous. Ate nuts and berries and raw foods, drank loads of water, and took a dollop of whiskey in her coffee every morning. She'd gargle salt water and shoot it out her nose because it "cleans you out good." 96 years old. She seemed like the person who'd finally break the curse and live forever. But she didn't.

Beyond Dad on the porch, I saw the American flag waving. Oh yeah, September 11th. Nobody can see the flag from there except the two households across the meadow. Irrelevant. We can see. We remember. We honor all who lost their very lives that day eight years ago. We think of what it must've been like to be on those flights knowing something wasn't right. We thank the ones who rushed in to be of help, to be of service, to give direction and impart calm to people fleeing down smokey staircases. What were their last words? Last thoughts? We wonder. We remember. And we grieve.

Mom and Dad took off then to the courthouse. They're standing with a man we know who has been accused of a crime that he maintains his total innocence over. If a jury of his peers agrees, okay. If not, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

In the evening, we went to eat Chinese food for Grandpa's birthday. September 11th in my family has always been Grandpa's birthday, until 8 years ago when it also became the day the towers fell. While eating, Heather told us about our friend's troubles during these, her last weeks of pregnancy. Visits to the hospital, talk of inducing early, bedrest, threats that losing the baby is possible if they don't get her blood pressure under control.

Birthdays. Chickens. War. Airplanes. Trials. Chinese food. Pregnancy. Death.

What we all could a little mercy now.


Damon B said...

Lori, what a great post. I had no idea you worked in the airline industry. Just goes to show how much I've missed by not keeping in contact all these years. For some reason, that job you described seems to totally fit you, crunching numbers in the deep dark resesses. I love the comment your husband made about news priority!

My wife and I were working the late shift at the time of the attacks. We were still in bed asleep when the first plane hit. My brother in law (who was living with us at the time) started pounding on our door "We're under attack!" Startled from sleep, at first I was thinking our house was under attack! What a sad day! When I got to work that afternoon (I work for the local transit authority) we were doing bomb sweeps every time a bus or train got to the end of it's route. Every time a bus or train was left sitting somewhere outside the secured facility (yard or garage) for more than 30 minutes, an employee had to go and do a real through inspection to make sure nothing was left on or around the vehicle. It was a very quiet and somber time at work.

Christi said...

Thanks for sharing with your lovely words.

Rena said...

I loved this post, although it was emotional for me to read. A good reminder of that day 8 years ago AND of the events of the day this year. A good contrast with how life goes on, even when we think it can't.

8 years ago I was driving David to school when the news came on the car radio, and I rushed home and sat in front of the TV for the rest of the day. Larry was on a horse trip in the backcountry, totally out of touch and unaware of what was happening till several days later when I met him at the trailhead with supplies as we had prearranged since he was taking a different group of hunters back in, and I also had copies of the newspapers for him. He couldn't grasp it.

That evening too David and I went out with Mom & Dad for Chinese food for Dad's birthday. But it was a subdued celebration, and I remember thinking that it didn't seem right that life was going on for us when so many other families were devastated and the world might be ending.

This September 11th was full of emotional ups and downs too, but like you goes on for those still here. I loved the song. So true.

Rachel Clear said...

Your blog is making me cry, cry, cry. I'm listening to the song now, which I haven't heard in a long long time.

I feel really nervous and anxious and sad about the trial too, even though I don't know him (just through family). Just to think of being wrongfully convicted, or even locked away forever if you ARE guilty. It's heavy, too heavy to really wrap my mind around.

And Aunt Sue. I thought about her all weekend. You're right that it did seem like she'd just sort of always be. Death might be the only thing that ever managed to tackle her, even though in a way she tackled it by going about it so damn gracefully.

I can't really make out what's going on lately. Is life getting more painful in general, or are we just more acutely aware of it because we're older? I mean, with all the death our family has faced, we've always been familiar with the pangs of suffering, but the sufferings of those around us now seem different, more palpable and heartbreaking and it's heavy indeed.

The song was perfect.