I was fourteen years old, belly-down with an Algebra book on the brown carpet of my little white bedroom with its window that opened onto the back porch, but I didn’t finish the Algebra lesson that day, or do any other school work.
Living within the barbed-wire-topped fences of a military installation, I felt at once more safe and more vulnerable than I might have felt somewhere else. Guards with guns all around, but in a war, aren’t military installations targets?
On the radio, news of the unthinkable, and later, at our neighbor’s house where there was a TV — we didn’t have one — the images played, over and over. So that now, I have to make a conscious effort to see them, to remember that these are people, that this happened, that it was terrifyingly real.
My freshmen were five years old then, so they probably don’t remember the times before it: how we walked all the way to the arrival gate to pick up my cousins at the airport and no one scanned us or checked our IDs or even really paid attention to us; how our military wasn’t involved in perpetually futile attempts to squelch terrorism all over the world; how there was nothing specific that we were supposed to remember on September eleventh.
Today, our campus is adorned with flags, they had a special bell-ringing at 9:11 this morning, and I read this poem to my class, because it’s a good poem, and because today is today.
That year, the girl we sponsored in Uganda wrote a letter expressing her condolences for our troubles in America, her sorrow over it, the fact that she prayed for us. From Uganda, where children are taken and pressed in armies, trained to kill one another with machetes, where war and disease are not tidily kept in news reports and hospital rooms, she extended sympathy to us.
I think of the hand of a Sudanese man, covering an ugly painting in an art history book, so that I wouldn’t have to look at it. And I marvel at this grace.
We observe today as a day when the world changed, when American life became more dangerous. A marker between how it was and how it is. But how is it? Still comfortable, still safe and prosperous, still free and at ease in our borders. They scan us at the airports, check IDs, keep non-passengers away from the gates: but still we fly, with minimal anxiety, and reach nearly all our destinations in perfect safety.
And so, thirteen years older, sitting up in bed in a pale blue room with its window that opens onto the front porch, with all the day’s school work complete, I wonder, I remember, and I rejoice.
©2014 by Stacy Nott