A Memory of 9/11: Taking Solace in the Reality of Touch

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Friday, Facebook was alive with people recalling just where they were at the moment when news of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, reached them. Here is another recollection:

The pastor was standing out in front of his church, facing the cars slowly going by, his hands clasped in prayer. Horrified and numbed by the news on my car radio, I was headed home. Home. I needed to get home. Traffic on the street was heavy as I slowly approached a stop sign and looked over at his small church on the corner. I stretched my arm out my open window, my palm toward him, my tears flowing. Looking over, he nodded his head and extended his arm and open palm back to me. I took solace in this man, this stranger who was ministering to all of us who were slowly driving by his church, all of us trying to find our way home. A few days later, I would see him again. Sitting on the front steps, his white hair all out of place, his cassock open, hanging his head as if the weight of the passing days had finally broken him.

My husband -- who often works in the Pentagon, whom I could not reach for an anxious hour that morning but who finally got through to tell me he was okay and heading home -- pulled his car up in front of our house. I ran to him and clung to him. His face was white with disbelief and rage. Throughout the day, I couldn't go far, needing often to just touch him and feel him near. We would soon hear stories from our friends, through their tears and anger, who were in the Pentagon at the time it was hit. Their lives changed forever.

Fairfax County schools decided not to release students early that day, so Steve and I walked up to get our 7-year-old son, Charlie, at dismissal time. We were joined by another couple in our neighborhood. Along the walk there, we saw many couples holding hands and walking up to get their children. Charlie was thrilled that his father was there to get him. As he jumped up into his arms, he looked around. "Dad," he asked, "Why are all the dads here?"

On the way home from dinner at Steve's brother's that night, we passed a home, and I could see through the front window a woman bathed in the blue light of her television screen. Bent forward, one arm was clasped around her waist, her other hand covered her mouth, her eyes wide and disbelieving.

Although we tried to tell Charlie as little as we could, in the coming days and weeks he would learn. One night, after he was in bed and the lights off and when we were saying our final 'Good nights,' he asked me, "Mom, how did the good guys get out of the planes before they crashed?"

On Sept. 12, I got up early and went outside into the light and the air, and I looked at the sky and tried to breathe. I fought the urge to lie down and embrace the Earth, knowing in my heart that she was still there, that the ground that shifted beneath all our feet that day was still here.

-- Cheryl Somers Aubin, Vienna


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