Wednesday, September 11, 2002

One year later.

I feel like the country as this day passes, can exhale after holding its breath for a year. It's a beautiful windy day, too windy almost. Perhaps that is America exhaling. More strongly here, near New York and Washington, DC, and softer as our collective breath is dispersed across the plains, then picking up again toward the West Coast.

The TV stations are crammed with images of memorials, grieving relatives, and moments of silence. But defiantly, life goes on as evidenced in the coffee shop that I visited today. People from all backgrounds walked in and talked pleasantly among each other. The owner of the shop, who is either Cuban or Puerto Rican, and I collaborated to come up with an alternative solution for a frozen mocha since they were out of their mocha mix. And that, in these pockets of America, the America that the terrorists cannot see, is where we truly triumph.

Osama bin Laden and his Al Quaeda terrorists may think they have successfully hidden from us, but that pales in comparison to the millions of pockets that America proudly wears in her quilt that Osama will never reach, and never find. The pockets where races, religions, ages, sexes, and backgrounds mix and cooperate to achieve another day of freedom. And yes, even on the day that is the sad anniversary of a hideous act by a terrorist group who tried to steal that freedom away. Unlike the caves in the Middle East, our pockets move, never in the same place as they were the day or hour before. The tiny pockets of triumph in America work like a kaleidoscope. And that is where we truly are untouchable, as a moving target is the hardest of all to attack.

A couple of weeks after September 11, 2001 is an example of one of those pockets. I received an e-mail from my aunt who asked if those of us on the West Coast had received our rehearsal dinner invitations for my cousin's wedding. None of us had, except for one person. That person received the invitation from London via overnight mail sent by a person with a Middle Eastern name. Inside, was the invitation, torn and coated with a white powdery dust, and a note written on Waldorf Astoria stationery. The note from the sender read that he had found the letter downtown in New York on September 11th, and thought she would like to have it. This man, in all the chaos of September 11th, picked up a piece of mail, carried it with him to London and made sure it got to the intended recipient.

We deduced that the mail had been on one of the hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center. All the invitations, mine included had been sent on September 10th from Maine. Maine mail goes through Boston, and commercial airlines regularly take US Mail as part of their cargo, especially for cross continental flights. The mail would have been on one of the Boston flights, either on Flight 175 or Flight 11. How it survived, is incredible. How it made its way into the hands of a kind stranger, is even more incredible.

As of today, she is only person who received her invitation.

The story of the hijacked mail that made it to it's destination was picked up by USA Today. It would have received much more publicity, as press from all over the world was trying to reach her, but she wanted to retain her privacy and didn't want to make a spectacle of something that was a result of such a tragic event. Robert Taylor, who is quoted in the article is my uncle who lives here in Maryland.

I remember that I was very unnerved that my name and address had been on one of the planes that slammed into the Towers. It brought it that much closer to home for me that in a way, "I" had been onboard one of those planes. I contacted the person who had received the invitation and asked her if I could see it. She lived in Los Angeles, so it was a local trip. I'd never met her before and told her I needed to "touch" what had happened so I could start the process of accepting it. After some interrogation, she agreed when she realized my intentions were honest and I met her at her office. I held the letter in my hand, still caked with dust from the Twin Towers, torn, watermarked, its happy red envelope and playful invitation a contrast to where it had come from. As I held it, I had a sensory experience. I could hear the sounds of the jet turning, the screeches of the engines as they thrust into high gear, feel the shift of the plane as it rounded its way to New York, and sense the fear of the people and the helplessness of all aboard. I was holding in my hand, a survivor from that plane. It had been there and witnessed it all, and communicated what it had experienced through my fingertips.

On this September 11th, I went to a church service with my mom who sings in the church choir. They had a slide show of the events and some of the victims as the choir sung a somber requiem, and several speakers from all religions at the service, including a search and rescue team who brought their two golden retriever dogs who had done S&R at the Pentagon after the attacks. After the service, I pet the dogs, Pacy and Sam, to let them know how much they were appreciated. They had their rescue gear on, doggie jackets with reflective lettering on them. I can't imagine how beautiful their furry faces must have looked to people trapped in the rubble.

I just realized that I made good on some of my goals after September 11th, 2001. I wanted to move closer to family, and I have. I wanted to start living again, and I'm beginning to do that. And, I wanted to relax my brow and exhale, if even just for a little while.

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