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Memories of 9-11 September 11, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Popular Culture, Random Observations.

I had been worried about moving from suburban Maryland to Florida, more than 800 miles from where my widowed mother was living alone in the five-bedroom house my brothers and I grew up in. Dave had moved to Salt Lake City in the middle 1970s, and Tom to Denver in the early ’80s, leaving me for more than 10 years as Mom’s only readily accessible “child.” My mother had been the third of six children; before she married my father, she had worked her way through college as what we’d now call an au pair, and then she worked for the Girl Scouts and lived in a Girl Scout group house. Which means that Mom was 66 years old when she was widowed and began living alone for the first time in her life. The poor baby simply didn’t know how to live alone.

Sure enough, after Jerry and I moved to Florida to save Jerry’s health, Mom’s health quickly deteriorated. In August 2001, Mom ended up in Intensive Care for the second time in a month after a serious infection was complicated by what today I’m pretty sure was delirium tremens. After Mom was released from the hospital, she was still in no condition to return to living alone. Dave found a nursing home for her (which she hated) before he had to return to Salt Lake City.

Tom had already been to Bethesda that year. So had I, for that matter (and more than once); but early September was my turn again.

At 9 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I was standing in the kitchen of my childhood home. It was to be several months before I was able to find someone to live with Mom, so I had five bedrooms (roughly 2,500 square feet) all to myself. I was feeling a little like a BB rattling around inside a tennis ball. I was in my childhood home, but it had been half my life since I had resided there. I was anxious about my mother. I was lonely for my husband and our many affectionate cats.

I was peeling an avocado, Mom’s favorite lunch. My plan was to take it to her at the nursing home to try to tempt her appetite.

The phone rang.

“Turn on the television,” Jerry said.

“And a lovely good morning to you too,” I replied. “Why should I turn on the TV, what’s up?”

For the first and only time, my darling husband of decades roared at me. TURN ON THE TELEVISION!  It was a minute or two after the second tower “got it.”

. . . I never did get to the nursing home to see Mom that day. In retrospect, I’m glad that her bourbon-pickled brain was in such a state that she never missed me. I simply couldn’t tear myself away from the TV. I sat alone in that big old house for hours, watching the color TV Daddy had bought so proudly in 1966 and listening to Dan Rather’s dentures whistle. (This all took place several years before Karl Rove framed Dan Rather for a felony com­mit­ted by George W. Bush in the mid-1970s, when Rather was still popularly considered an elder statesman among journalists.)

When we lived in Maryland, Jerry and I had belonged to an Episcopal mission that usually worshiped in space generously provided by a Presbyterian church. The afternoon of Sep­tem­ber 11, Father Ken spent hours with a Lu­ther­an pastor throwing together an “emergency” worship service at a local community center; it began at 7 p.m. My friend Barbara told me that Ken and Rufus were expecting about 30 people to attend. It looked to ME more like 300 bewildered, grieving, shocked worshipers, and maybe as many as 500. The community center was pretty well standing room only.

That was the last time I remember the United States coming together as a nation. We may never do it again. The partisan warfare being waged today by the radical revolutionaries who pretend to be con­serv­a­tives has gotten to such a point that the “top conservatives on Twitter” have spent days now accusing President Obama of trying to wring political gain out of our national tragedy, which apparently has become exclusively Republican property. (Probably Rudy Giuliani’s property.)

I understand from my reading that earlier today, George W. Bush was spreading the word on the Sunday talk shows that Osama bin Laden would never have been caught without the groundwork done under Bush’s watch. (To which I reply, BUSHWAH! Dubya was the one who started diverting U.S. resources to Iraq in December 2001, right when the special forces were almost on top of Osama in Tora Bora and might well have caught him alive. . . .)

I have included with this post several images from 9-11 that still speak to me, ten years later. Most are self-ex­pla­natory. This final image comes from a commuter train station in suburban New York, and was taken several days after that fateful Tuesday. What you are looking at is the cars belonging to commuters who never came home to reclaim them. I find it almost as heartbreaking an image as the child’s lost lambie.

Our national tragedy does not “belong” to the top conservatives on Twitter, the Republican Party, Rudy Giuliani, or even My Pet Goat. It belongs to everyone who loves the freedoms that many of us, es­pe­cially Republicans, have abandoned, including privacy (warrantless wiretapping, spying on American citizens); including censorship; including demonization of swarthy immigrants; including the Geneva Conventions; including the right of Muslim-Americans to freedom of religion; including the right of atheists to no religion; including the right to travel on an airplane without being presumed to be a master criminal until after you have proven your innocence at least five times. (During the next several years, while Mom’s health continued to deteriorate, I flew between Florida and D.C. dozens of times; nowadays I am so fed up with flying, which I used to love, that I take the train. Which, except for the length of the journey, is infinitely more comfortable and more fun than flying. On my most recent train trip I had to show my driver’s license twice, once going and once returning.)

Our national reaction to the unprovoked act of war ten years ago does prove conclusively that Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and other Republicans are wrong on one crucial point: America is NOT a “Christian nation,” and never has been. A genuinely Christian nation would have turned the other cheek.



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