An anniversary.

Nine years today. Gosh. That’s almost a full decade! And even so, I don’t think I’ve fully processed that day, how it changed the city and our whole country, the world. But I won’t go on and on about it. You know.

I took a writing seminar this summer on memoir. I’ve always liked family stories, and I haven’t taken a true writing class since I was 12. I thought it would push me but also give me some structure on how to put personal stories together into some sort of narrative. In class, our moderator would read a poem or story and ask us to choose a phrase from it that spoke to us. Then we’d have 10 minutes to write, in longhand, without stopping. She stressed the not stopping – even if you had to write, “This is stupid and I have nothing to say and I can’t think of anything and I hate this class,” etc. for the full time. She assured us that eventually the exercise would take us somewhere surprising.

Indeed.

I want to share a story I wrote that day, which is especially poignant today. I chose a prompt about thunderstorms and started writing some nice, sweet story about a memory with my mom. Then it went in a totally different direction. Just like it all came tumbling out, of nowhere. This is a little unedited, not much more polished than the day I wrote it. I know some of you share this memory, so apologies if I don’t have my facts straight. But it’s as I best recall.

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Full Thunder Moon

Native Americans called July’s full moon a “full thunder moon” because of the frequent thunderstorms during that month. I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm, which is a hallmark of summers in the south. My mom and I loved to huddle in our glass-paneled stairwell and watch nature unleash its fury outside. There’s something grand, angry, surprising, dangerous, shocking, scary and beautiful about a good thunderstorm.

My most memorable thunderstorm was not in July, however. It was a Thursday night in September, in New York City, in 2001. A storm to temper the trauma, despair, fear, anxiety and utter sadness of the days before. The skies that night unleashed what I call a “wrath of God” thunderstorm. The lightning lit the city streets all the way into my dark, side-street apartment. You could feel the thunder in your bones, as it rattled even my sturdy, pre-war building.

It was not a thunderstorm I enjoyed, but it was one I understood – a release of all the pent-up tension, anger and grief.

Almost 10 years later, I vividly recall snapshots from that week – the first cool, clear day to break the summer’s steamy heat … watching the events unfold on the Today show at home and arguing with my roommate about it not being just an accident … walking outside to see everyone staring at their nonworking cell phones in confusion … people telling each other what had happened on the cross-town bus … and seeing the buildings on fire at every avenue past Fifth … arriving at work to learn the Pentagon had also been hit and that this was much bigger than we’d imagined … my boss fleeing the office on foot to find his wife and children he’d left that morning at Battery Park City … mobs of people walking north on the most beautifully sunny day and then looking up as the F14 fighter jet flew overhead, guarding our airspace … how all that any of us could think to do was eat, so every restaurant and diner was packed … and finally, the weary firefighter, slumped in his seat on the bus, ash on his boots, hanging his head and staring blankly, until everyone got up to shake his hand.

During that storm, I hoped that the torrential, pounding rains were soothing the fires and rescue efforts downtown. Perhaps they were also soothing us, an entire city (and nation) in shock.

The next day, we awoke to a world reborn … recovering but not forgotten. We went back to work. The sun shone and the early fall breezes were cool. And we realized that we could start living again.

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We will never forget.

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3 thoughts on “An anniversary.

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