>Where Were You?

>There are a plethora of television specials, essays, blog posts, Facebook notes, songs and poems about September 11. People on Facebook keep asking, like Alan Jackson’s song, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?”

Art helps us make sense of our lives. That’s why many of us write, paint, sing, dance, act, design things, build things. One of the better blog posts I read this week is by Ken Hertz, an airplane pilot:

“September 11: Why I Write.”
Here’s an excerpt:

“But the act of writing itself seemed invested with new urgency. I questioned my prior writing goals: Would it even be okay to write about seemingly trivial subjects? Did the very fact of 9/11—starkly visible to me in the form of a still-smoldering hole in the city as I flew down the Hudson—now mean that every writing effort must be directed toward producing a work of larger importance, something with the gravitas to match the era in which we now found ourselves living?”

And here’s a poem by Edwin Romond:

“Picking My Son Up After His First Day a Preschool. September 11, 2001.”

Where was I? I was visiting Holy Dormition (Orthodox) Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. For one week I had no access to television or radio news. I saw none of the images the rest of the world watched perpetually during that week. Here’s how I received the news:

Mother Gabriella (the abbess, in the middle in this photo) and I were walking outside after breakfast. We had been up early for the morning worship service that Tuesday, which wasn’t anything unusual for the nuns and priests at the monastery. They get up early every morning to pray. It’s usually quiet on the monastery grounds, but on this morning workmen were busy finishing up the new guest house, and Mother Gabriella was taking me over to see the progress when we noticed the workmen leaning against a truck, listening to the radio. As we approached, one of them said, “The World Trade Centers in New York City have just been hit by airplanes.”

My immediate response was to look at Mother’s face, to see how she would respond. The news was too big for me to bear alone. I needed her calm strength, and it was there immediately. She didn’t cry. She didn’t run back to the refectory screaming the news to the other nuns. She held my hand, and we walked calmly back to tell Father Roman the news. He had a television in his house on the monastery grounds, and over the next few days he would watch some of the coverage and give the nuns and visitors updates during meals.

Of course I called my husband, who was at a medical meeting in Vancouver. And then my daughter, who had just started her freshman year at the University of Tennessee. She was away from home for the first time and I wanted to hold her. One of her brothers was also at UT, so at least they were together. Our oldest son was living on an island in the Caribbean. A friend of his on the island lost his mother in the fall of the World Trade Centers. The next week Jon joined the Army. Ten years later he’s an officer and a pilot, having done two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanastan.

Three days after September 11, on September 14, 2001, we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and
The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America
served the liturgy and gave a wonderful homily. After breakfast we all went outside to ring the large bells. Bishop Nathaniel said we were ringing them to celebrate Christ’s victory over death, even the deaths of September 11. I remember when it was my turn to pull the rope and cause the loud peal of the bells, something inside my heart lifted. As the author of this article on the use of bells in Orthodox worship says:

“Having come to love the ringing of church bells, the Russian Orthodox people have united to it all their festive and sorrowful events. For this reason Orthodox church bell ringing not only signals the start of church services, but serves as an expression of joy, sorrow and solemnity.”

At the end of my week-long pilgrimage at the monastery, I flew home to Memphis, on Sunday, September 16. I saw my first images of the planes hitting the buildings on the television screens all throughout the Detroit airport. I sat and wept loudly as I watched in a bar at the airport. Someone sitting near me said, “Each time we see these images it’s like seeing them for the first time, isn’t it?” He had no idea it WAS the first time I had seen them.

When I got home and held my husband in my arms, my grief exploded. And my thankfulness that our family was safe.

A dear friend who lived and worked in New York City had seen people jumping from the windows of the burning buildings. Another had walked for hours to get home from work since the subways weren’t working. Another who worked in one of the buildings was going in to work later than usual that day, and so his life was spared. They only spoke about that day in muted tones, and not for many months after it passed.

So, that’s my 9/11 story. What’s yours?

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