Sunday, September 4, 2011

Were You There?. . .

Pearl Harbor Day
When I attended the Buie's Creek Academy in the 8th grade, a strict Southern Baptist school in Buie's Creek, North Carolina, one of my friends was Anne Green, niece of the noted Paul Green, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the famous symphonic drama The Lost Colony. Paul had also been a student there many years before.

Religion was a major theme on the curriculum. We seemed to spend a lot of time in church. Though not a Baptist, I loved the hymns. One of my favorites was the Negro spiritual "Were You There?"

As we head toward the 10th anniversary of 9-11 next Sunday, "Were You There" naturally morphs into "You Were There."

No rational adult will ever forget the where of those gigantic moments. THAT MORNING... THAT DAY...

I'd set out into the brilliant sunlit blue sky morning for a meeting, when I saw the TV in the window of the cigar store across the street. I dashed back to my apartment and stayed glued in horror to watch Katie and Matt and the other shocked but professional news anchors, as they described what was happening in real time.

The Twin Towers! OUR towers!

The Pentagon! No, it wasn't real. It was a TV horror movie!

Then the quiet, isolated, lonely field. . .

This could not be happening! Not to Manhattan, the capital of the urban world!

Or the mighty fortress near our capital. The impregnable invincible forever pentagonal pinnacle of defense in Arlington, Virginia, not far from the remains of many of our finest and bravest. . .

The minutes exploded, each frame more horrible than the last.

We huddled in our safe cocoons, but safe no more. Watched the nightmares unfold.

Helpless. Terrified. Numb. Weeping.

The acrid scent of smoke and ash came right through the TV screen. Inch by inch. Cloud by cloud. Then the sight of body by body. . .

Until it stopped.

But it never did stop, did it?

Now, ten years later, we relive one of the most difficult mornings of our national history.
The memory segues into other milestones of our lives.

And the question lingers.

Where Were You... when...?

My first memory of our nation's list of injuries was that Sunday afternoon, December 7. A day of infamy. Then the mellow, steadying voice of the old guy with his cape and cigarette holder, calming the fears of a little girl through a dark wood radio from an invisible wheelchair.

Then the old man's death, down in a tiny hamlet called Warm Springs. And the somber train procession up to his New York grave.

How quickly the years pass...

A phone call that dark November from a fellow college dean in Newport, Rhode Island. I heard her crying. "I can't meet with you today. The President's been shot. Turn on your TV!"

Another round of watching. Waiting. Glued to the TV.

Jackie's bloodied clothes. Everybody there crying.

The vain hope that would soon be dashed.

Then Walter's final solemn pronouncement.

Camelot was dead.

We may never know what drastic changes those earlier events made in our national and personal lives.

But we do know first-hand the cataclysmic upheavals 9-11 enacted in every layer and foundation of our lives now.

They touch us everywhere – on land, in the air, on the sea.

On September 11, 2001, a tsunami reached from the island of Manhattan over every square foot of Mother Earth.

May God be with us and give each of us courage and light and vision and hope, as we step gingerly into the vast unknown. The dark mist of time.

Where Were You???

You Are Here......................................................................

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

1 comment:

  1. What a well written piece!!! Yes, there are memories and then there are memories that are imbedded in the brain like no other. Very nicely done!!!