Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11, 2001

Sometimes, there are no words.

Sometimes, somehow, someone finds them.

Years later, they remembered where they had been. At their desks or in their beds, indoors or out. Driving, walking, working, alert, or half asleep. Each recalled momentary confusion. An airplane hit the World Trade Center. Pilot error? Technical glitch? And then the shock. A second plane. No accident. No mistake. The flames were real, as everyone could see on television. The Twin Towers burning, again and again. Bodies falling, again and again. The same towers, and the same bodies, and the Pentagon in flames. The scenes played constantly, at one heartbreaking and titillating, their repetition necessary, but also cheapening. Who, after all, could believe such a catastrophe after just one viewing? And who, after viewing once, could look away?               
[Chapter 27]

… Ash fell. A fine gray powder covered everything. Ash coated burned-out cars and traffic lights. Ash infiltrated apartments, graying books and dishes, smothering house plants, clouding windowsills. Ash smogged streets and soiled papers, loose and lost, invoices and receipts, canceled checks, business cards, appointment books, memoranda unremembered. Black dust, black ink, black banner headlines in The New York Times. Black articles about firefighters, rescue workers, schoolchildren, orphans. Black border ads from ExxonMobil, Allstate, Prudential, Home Depot, OppenheimerFunds, Fleet, Lufthnasa—to our friends in America, AOL Time Warner, Merrill Lynch. Our hearts go out to everyone who’s been touched by the tragic events … our through and prayers … our gratitude for the tireless efforts of the emergency and rescue workers. Condolences from Israel and Egypt, the city of Berlin, the Iranian-American community—profoundly saddened, the Red Cross, the Ministries of New York—we’re here to pray for you.

Museums opened free of charge. Oases of deep color: Rothkos, Rembrandts, Egyptian tombs, Roman glass, iridescent bottles outlasting their perfume. Amulets, silk gowns, and Grecian urns. Those young girls with parted lips, those haystacks, those stone angels taking flight, those paintings of fruit and full-blown flowers.

Classical-music stations broadcast elegies, and listeners stopped what they were doing to hear Faure’s Requiem or Barber’s Adagio for Strings. To breathe again.

Churches opened doors for candle-lighting, singing, sermons, vigils. In the name of the National Cathedral, President Bush said, “We are here in the middle hour of our grief…” and he told the American people to keep on living, to travel, to attend the theater, to go out and buy. Alas, buying did not appeal. Only American flags sold out. Great flags hung from walls and firehouses. Smaller versions adorned shop windows and front doors. Drivers clipped miniature flags to car antennae where they fluttered in the breeze.

A flag was tangible. Its stars and stripes were real, unlike the dot-com bombs of yesterday. Who remembered those? The upstarts, overhyped and overfunded. When the Nasdaq reopened on September 17, even Cisco hovered at twelve dollars a share. Vaporizing into usefulness, online shopping, e-mail, and instant news, the Internet lost its mystique, and suddenly it was everywhere and nowhere, like the air. A flag had value …               
[Chapter 28]

… By spring, fewer troopers with dogs and submachine guns stood guard at the airports. Obituaries and memorial services had tapered off, and flags were smaller where they still flew. Magazines showcased 9/11 widows and their families, especially the babies their husbands would never know, but those same publications featured recipes for easy, breezy outdoor fun, tips for praising children the right way, and full-page photographs of fruit cobblers, no-bake desserts, no-sew craft projects, closet makeovers, and illustrations of simple exercises for those mornings when there was no time to run. Death never died, but the idea of death receded, as it must.         
[Chapter 32]

From The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

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