Thursday, September 11, 2008

This Day

(0riginally published here 11 September, 2005)

Fall is here. We no longer sleep with all the windows open at night. It is still and cool outside, with the bright light falling on leaves that have just begun to dry and fade. Last night my daughter got home from her first Homecoming dance after midnight, so the Team slept in this morning. Mom and Dad didn't really wait up, of course; we just happened to have good books to read.

She was beautiful in her midnight blue satin dress. She wore a silver filigree band over the crown of her head, and strand of fine silver beads were woven through her jet black hair. I'm sure there's a fashion term for the effect, but it wasn't a tiara and I'm certainly no Mr. Blackwell to pull the right word out of the bag. Her date was one of the neighbor kids - one of my former scouts even, from back in the day when our LDS ward drafted me for assistant scoutmaster duties with the twelve year olds.

Talk about "in my wildest dreams"...

She's making pancakes now. It's Sunday and that's what she always does. Last night was a rite of passage, and she said as much this morning while thanking us for the dress and recounting the experiences of pictures and dancing and the silly or embarrassing things that happened to her or around her.

But now it's time for pancakes. Because that is what we do on a Sunday.

Four years ago today was also a brilliantly clear and cool morning. On that Tuesday we were involved in last minute packing for a cross country trip to say a final goodbye to my wife's mother. Services were to be held Thursday in the family church in Burlington, Vermont, and then we'd all go up to the most beautiful hillside in that most beautiful northeastern state and lay her ashes to rest among the plots containing her neighbors and ancestors going back almost three hundred years.

The kids and mom were in the living room putting the last items in their carry-on bags. The TV at the end of the coffee table was probably tuned to Nick or Disney; I don't know.

I was on our bed contemplating a cat nap when my wife literally dragged me to my feet. I was coming out of my doze quickly but still spinning up when I began to understand what she was asking me.

"What kind of bomb did that? What happened?"

I came through the kitchen into the living room. The TV sat on the entertainment center, framed between the still heads of my daughters. The Twin Towers filled the screen - the one on the right scarred by a smoking hole near the top third of the building.

I'm a surveyor. I've staked out a dozen or so commercial buildings, plus bridges, dams, and highways. Nothing on the scale of a genuine skyscraper of course, but I knew just enough about the design of the WTC to confuse the hell out of myself in those first few seconds. The WTC was built with the mass of the structural support in the walls of the building - soaring vertical steel columns spaced narrowly and then tied to floor pans for rigidity. The gaping wound in that building traversed four or five floors - which meant that whatever kind of bomb had been used must have been massive to have punched through so many floors. I wondered why there were any windows left on the floor where the bomb had to have been. The spaces inside the floors were huge and open; what office walls did exist were aesthetic, not structural. The majority of the spaces in there had to be cube farms. Were there multiple bombs? Maybe smuggled in as copiers or computers or office supplies? Blast follows least resistance... so why one big hole and intact windows on each side? The noise from the TV was just that - noise. The commentators were reporting an explosion and ad libbing while they tried to catch up.

"What kind of bomb? What kind of bomb?" My daughters hadn't moved since I came into the room.

Then the second 767 flashed into view, in a skidding bank to port, and disappeared behind the other tower. A blink of awful silent stillness and then the eruption of smoke, flame, and glass filled the screen.

I told my wife "We are at war". And then I cried with my family.

There were other awful moments in that awful day. My girls figured out where the airplanes had come from in less than an hour - and that some had been hijacked from Boston, which was to have been one of our connections. The urge to fight back - to reject the terrorists' goals - drove both my wife and I to head into work shortly after noon. I was on the way to a construction site in my work truck when the President's second statement was broadcast.

The thought struck me that had things gone differently, I could just have well been listening to Al Gore.

I pulled over and threw up.

I've always known that I live in an embarrassment of riches. Random chance placing me here in America has been the greatest blessing a person could ever hope for. Those that feel differently are free to do so. "Free" as in so shielded from the potential of their convictions that they can embrace agendas tantamount to suicide if they should ever be fulfilled.

What a country, eh?

I will continue to do those things that a citizen must do to support and defend our nation, and hope that enough of my fellow citizens do the same. Lincoln was right when he predicted that if we ever fell it would be a failure from within and not the result of some foreign attack.

Jihadis can only kill us. Should we ever lose our liberty, it will be by our own hand and no other's.

It's time for pancakes. Y'all have a fine day.

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