Sunday, September 11, 2016

While We Lay Sleeping - Thoughts on 9-11

I've always been an earlier riser.  Part of that is conditioning, years where I had to muster out from under my covers to launch into the wild blue while the sun was still AWOL. It's not always easy, there are days when one just wants to lay there in the quiet, then you realize that all wakefulness consists of getting up sooner or later until you have to lay down for good, sooner than you want to.

On days I work it is dark as I get up, 6 o'clock still far off, and as I sip coffee the world comes to me slowly, in small bits of sound as Abby explores the yard seeking the best place to pee as my husband puts breakfast together, as my blood pressure and IQ are still an hour away from awareness. As Abby and I explore the yard, here's the crunch of leaves, the whoosh of a light wind and that moment where the door closes behind us, the darkness yet to give up her secrets.

On days off, I tend to do the same, as that makes it so much easier to get up on work days. I remember well the 14 years I did field work, before moving into an office and a suit.

It would be dark when we crawled out of bed, myself from the cool warmth of a silk covered spread, Barkley from the warm, puffy Beignet of a dog bed in the corner.  I'm a very light sleeper unless coming off of an 18 hour stint, where I would fall into bed with that small death of exhaustion and didn't move for 10 hours, but for my feet twitching, running to the wreckage of a life, there in the dark.  Otherwise, I sometimes would awaken in the middle of the night as I heard sounds outside, the bark of a dog in the distance, a car door, my former neighbor the cop, coming home off a late shift.  He was quiet, so not to wake his family, but I would still wake up, recognizing the sound of his car before turning and going right back to sleep.

It would be still dark when my eyes would  open again, the flutter of an eyelid springing a dog from his bed, as if a switch had been moved.  He seemed to know the instant I was awake, perhaps a change in the sound of my breathing, perhaps just a schedule he was used to, but he would be waiting to go out.
I would  let him outside, as I sat on a small lawn chair on the back deck while he did his business. On some mornings I would see a young woman from down the road out walking, alone but for a small flashlight.  I've more than a flashlight in my pocket, not caring to venture out in the dark in an isolated area unarmed, even if within 20 feet of the shadow of a house.

People ask, do you carry  a firearm because of fear? No,  It's not fear, it's awareness, of what stirs in the dark, what quietly walks our streets.  Most people, certainly too many young women, are oblivious to it.  I was too, until I saw violence up close.  It was like someone opened the window, suddenly letting in sound.  It doesn't come in all at once, the dull whoosh of the wind, the cry of a hawk, the deep throated huff of an animal out in the dark.  Perhaps I'd been aware of the sound all along, but just never really listened to it, the sound being so far beyond my experience and naivety. On those mornings where I would watch Barkley run from the edge of the pond towards me, I realized I had been as obvious to that sound as a flea to the roar of the fur bearing tsunami on which it rides. 
There are times I wish I could go back to those days, when my innocence was intact, my trust of people solid and a night out meant thinking only about the enjoyment of my time with my friends. But 9/11  and the events that preceded it that made me change careers  midlife - changed that for me. So it shall be for those that experienced the terror that's ever increasing abroad and at home, those both innocent and those aware - as it will forever scar how they will view the world in their remaining days.

As individuals,  many of us have experienced it, that moment when evil swipes its paw at us, where even if you walk away unharmed, the slash marks form small scars that may not show, but can be felt with small tracings of fingers, there as you lay safe in your bed in your dark.  It brings back memories of that moment, when all you can think is "I don't wish to die" in that inaudible tone of quiet amazement  as if it were something that, until you heard the words in your head, you did not truly realize was a possibility, nor the extent or the depth of your desire to forestall it. Yet,

As a nation we felt that, in the wake of 9-11, when those that hate what we stand for struck in the high, fierce slumber of our superiority, when tiny flags flew on legions of automobiles as the nation wept.  Those that watched it on the TV felt it, those out in the field experienced it, faces steaming with sweat and blood, breath coming in profound gulps of hot air, not with exhaustion, but with that vehement rage that is terror's aftermath.
The nation wept, and then much of it went back to sleep.  Some of us never did.  There is nothing that would forever cleanse that picture from us  - not the rain, that sometimes poured down on us, driving in sheets, tasting both of clean water and of salt, nor the morning light - a gleam of moral support that only illuminated the carnage.

Safe in our own world, our nation easily forget the dangers that political correctness instructs us to ignore. We turn on the news and see news of an attack, another roadside bomb, another suicide bomber.  I recalled another attack, this one hitting close to home. It was the bombing massacre at the Radisson at Amman, Jordan, where I had just stayed just two days prior, my survival not a matter of my fundamental beliefs or willingness to fight back, but simply timing,
Yet I almost hate to turn on some channels to only see another single-,minded media representative refusing to truly name the threat that faces the world. I agree with James Pavitt "The terrorist organizations are penetrable. I want every one of those SOBs looking over their shoulder." Honor requires difficulty. Keeping this type of terror away from our own shores will be on ongoing battle requiring resources and physical courage that are not limited by our past conceptions of what defines war, nor the mindset that "we can just all get along".

I don't have a TV, but this morning's internet news is full yet another terror plot uncovered as photos from previous attacks play across the TV. As photos of adults carrying the dead from yet another site of collective human failure fill the screen, I am forced to confront a harsher truth - that of all God's creatures, man can be the cruelest. Only man, blessed with the ability to reason, is capable of reasoned hate. Will Durant, the great historian, once said that, "barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim." As civilized people, we can think of no cause that justifies the deliberate taking of innocent lives. But as the year's pictures of attack after attack tell me - there are those that do.
There were so many pictures last night and this morning looking back to this fateful day fifteen years ago - a suddenly lowering of darkness onto the city normally brilliant with lights, a night that fell upon our vision, almost as something tangible. It was as if, as the first aircraft struck the towers, with something so formidable and swift, like the sudden smashing of a vial of hate, the lights of the entire world were turned down.

I turned away from the screen when I felt the tears well up, and quietly left my safe and warm room. I went out onto the porch, remote below the lightening sky, listening to the audible celestial stillness of stars drifting past. I sat perfectly still in the quiet, watching the ink seep from the sky overhead while in the east all is blood and fiery sky.
I see a hawk dive down black and clean as a shadow. It's wings cleaved the shimmering air and the rising air was the pristine lift that moves it forward, the perfect stream in which it swam, and dwindled and vanished, having killed not for hate or some warped ideology, but simply to eat, taking not any more than it needed. These are the days of doubts, of long dark nights, when even the devout wonder if we are keepers of more than this, if we will know safety and peace or simply inherit the wind and the dark.

As Abby the Lab, quietly leaves her mark on the grass, I sit and trace a scar on my upper ribcage, to the left of my heart. It looks like something took a small, deep bite out of me, and in a way it did.  It's a small reminder of how, if we don't watch carefully, the world may take a swipe at us.

I did not swear an oath to my country because I was naive, but because I was, and am, ready to fight for her.  I do not carry a weapon because I am afraid.  I carry because I am ready, as well, to constitute and assert the irrevocable finality of my refusal to let another innocent be harmed.

Fifteen years.

Today there will be only a moment of respect for those souls that were lost.  A moment in which I will look skyward, wishing them peace, as the light vanishes with a soft sigh, driving down for only a moment upon the musty smell of slain flowers, there in a vase. Flowers taken from gardens for so many reasons, for love, for loss, for the dead, now dying themselves.

As I look to an uncaring sky, I grieve for the way they left us, as much as the why.

We graduated from the Academy that day, in the last days of summer 2001. It was not a life I would have expected but it was the only life I could live. On that day we charged out into the world, passionate, excited and only days later, damned forever of all peace. In what seemed to us like minutes, we stood with regret and anguish, the despair out of which the quietly mourning, enduring bones stand up that can bear anything.

Almost anything.


  1. We Canadians joined you in your sorrow on 9-11. We lost 24 Canadians that day. It really changed the Western world. The unpredictability of it all. I am currently pondering a trip to Paris next year, but I admit the world climate makes me hesitate. I wish I could feel as prepared as you.

  2. The possibility of a life changing (or ending) in a brief moment has always been the reality of life It's a concept that has always hard to accept so is often not even discussed. But on that day it was shouted. It did not pass quietly.

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  3. I can't believe it was so long ago now. A year later, I was off to law school. Military Husband was on a combat tour. Time passes so fast.

  4. this day changed the life of nearly all people.... we know now that everything is possible even the unthinkable...we remember today and we promised each other to do what we can that such a day will not happen again...


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