Today was much the same. Lovely blue sky, mild temperatures, loads of sun. Once again I found myself cleaning the house. Different home, different family room, same old routine that I follow every week. Not as eager to get outside, admittedly -- not with eleven more years of arthritis, not with having to take a dog with me everywhere so that he doesn't get separation anxiety, and so forth. But still, a lovely, lovely day.
Eleven years ago I had turned on the television to one of the morning network infotainment shows, just to have a little background noise while I worked. My daughter was at her fourth grade class in her elementary school and my wife was at work. The only pet in the house was a hamster, and she was pretty quiet. I happened to glance up at the screen just in time to see the first plane crash into the Towers, over the shoulders of the news anchor. I actually saw it before the people on the television realized what was going on. (I'm sure that the camera people and everybody else in the studio facing the anchor desk saw it and were just as upset and puzzled as I was -- how does an airplane plow into a building in midtown Manhattan? It hadn't happened since an old prop plane rammed into the Empire State Building in the 1930's.)
About fifteen minutes later we saw the second plane hit. And shortly after that, we heard about an explosion at the Pentagon. At that point we were all certain something bad was happening, and of course, we were right. I didn't make it out into that beautiful weather until much later in the day, glued to the set as were so many other Americans, watching the Towers fall, seeing the aftermath in Washington, and generally becoming almost numb with the horror of it all. I hadn't been so overwhelmed by the news and the media showing the same awful thing over and over and over again since the space shuttle Challenger exploded a few seconds into its launch.
There was something terribly traumatic about seeing it all happen in front of you. About seeing it "live." As a kid, I was in fourth grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. We were sent home from school early. I don't think the administrators knew quite what else to do. My mother, who was cleaning house without her television or radio on, asked us what we were doing home so early. When I told her they sent us home because the President was shot, she smacked me for telling such an awful lie. Then she turned on the TV and realized something bad had indeed happened. Kennedy's murder didn't affect me nearly as deeply, though, as did the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, once again, on "live" television. A man was murdered right in front of me, albeit 2,000 miles away, but I was affected badly by the experience.
In 2001, my daughter came home at the regular time and I had to tell her what had happened. Of course, being a fourth grader, she didn't get it. It was too big, too far away, and hadn't happened to anybody she really knew well. She sort of understood the vague idea that people had died, but I don't think she understood why Dad was so upset. We finally went outside into that beautiful day, together, and she finally got it a little bit when we both realized how quiet the skies had become. By mid-afternoon, the airports had been locked down and nothing man-made was flying in the skies of Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the US. I've never know any quiet like the quiet of the skies that day and in the days that followed, and honestly, I hope I never do again.
Today, I saw the weather, I saw the date, and I started my dusting and vacuuming, and this time, I left the television and the radio off. And it was sort of OK to do that.