They’re calling today a day of infamy. More than 10,000 people were killed this morning, and I’m just coming to understand what it means for a nation to be in shock. It’s a glazed look in the eyes, people clustered in groups, whispering surprise and horror as the newsreels replay over and over a scene of such utter chaos, destruction and evil that it seems almost surreal. It’s the president of the country going into hiding after urging a confused and desperate public to send prayers, no matter what their faith. It’s looking out the window at a beautiful sunny day and seeing nothing but vast injustice among the blue skies and chirping birds. It’s feeling a leaden weight in the pit of your stomach and wanting to burst into tears because there’s nothing else to do.
The phone woke me up at 9:00 this morning, a rather unpleasant way to start a day I had no intention of starting until 11:00. My first concern was that I’d misread my schedule, and that I should have been in class or at work… But no, I was definitely supposed to be in bed.
“Pink?” I answer, trying to make it sound as though I’d already been awake for a good hour. I hate letting people know they’ve woken me up. It’s Jeremy.
“I suppose you’ve heard about what’s happened,” he begins without prologue. No hello? Alarm signals immediately begin to sound in my brain. No, I had not heard. What was going on?
The story is too terrible to be true. It’s certainly too terrible to be believed on anything but a superficial level. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth somewhere in Pennsylvania. Thousands of people are dead.
My father, I realize as my heart creeps into my throat, thudding with the fury of a runaway train, is in Washington. But not at the Pentagon. Right? He doesn’t work there…
Does he maybe visit sometimes? Official errands?
After I hang up the phone, there is no question of returning to sleep. I get up and try to phone home, but the lines are busy. I shower and dress, trying to make it a normal morning while the innumerable tragic possibilities parade through my head. My father wasn’t there. That’s all there is to it. He can’t have been. My father is not allowed to die.
I try home again with no luck. I want to see the TV reports, but not having my own TV, I would have to borrow someone else’s. I really don’t feel capable of social interaction. Even the short trip to the bathroom had been hard – girls talking in hushed voices about how tragic it was, one rolling her eyes and sighing “what a crazy country.”
“But your father isn’t there!” I wanted to shout. I wanted them to feel sorry for me, I wanted this to be about me. This realization made me feel almost as ill as the tragedy itself.
I keep my mouth closed and stay away from the television around which the girls on my floor are clustered.
Instead, I turn on the radio. There are interviews with the hysterical, the grave, the powerful, all trying to explain and justify. Explosions and crying can be heard in the back-ground, blurred but somehow made more frightening by the haze of static. Could this be real?
I pounce on the phone when it rings. It is Mom, and Dad’s okay. She says other things too, but they’re not important. I want to cry – still, again, forever – in relief and frustration and compassion and pain… pain for the ones who are dead, the ones who are trapped, traumatized… for the ones who are mourning, the ones who are waiting, and especially the ones who don’t know.
Today, lives are changed. The fates of men and nations are changed. Our lives, our freedom, our right to simply exist have been challenged, and even while we stand around and wait for those who wield the power to make it all right, we know that there will never be any completely satisfactory vindication. We are hopelessly lost, confused, betrayed…
A nation is in shock. Today is a day of infamy.