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The Gross National Debt

Monday, September 12, 2005

I took yesterday off from blogging. Partly because it was September 11th, and partly because I needed a break after what was a very busy blogging week for me. I'm an avid football fan and a dedicated Redskins fan, so yesterday went like this for me:

A mundane day. Very much like Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I worked then for a software company. I was on my way downtown to a meeting - right next to the Treasury building. It was a simply beautiful and pristine day. My husband called me sometime after 9am - he doesn't usually call me with news items, but he said he had been watching The Today show about a small plane flying into one of the WTC towers and, as he was watching, another plane flew into the other tower. I certainly didn't grasp what he was seeing - I told him I had a few phone calls to make and hung up. After that, my friend Michelle called me from our office in Arlington, VA. She said that a plane had flown into the Pentagon. She said that she had also heard rumors of bombs going off in DC, around the State Department and the FBI. She said they were evacuating the city, where I was headed.

By that time (for those of you who know DC), I was on Rt. 66 eastbound headed downtown. I was right at the Rosslyn/Key Bridge exit. I decided to take the exit and come across Key Bridge to Canal Road (in DC), thinking I would come along Canal Road and head back towards Northern Virginia. As I sat on the bridge, I could look to my right, down the Potomac River, and see the billowing smoke and the top of the flames from the Pentagon. It was truly surreal to look at it and to know that everything had changed. Just that quickly, everything was different.

The exodus from Washington DC was slow but the level of courtesy between fellow drivers was unprecedented... Canal Road runs out of the Georgetown area of DC on the DC side of the Potomac River along the C&O Canal. My goal was to get up to Chain Bridge - not very far - and cut over back into Virginia and then home. I was doing a lot more than driving as well. I was repeatedly trying to dial my cell phone to ascertain the location of my husband and to ensure that he was ok. At that time as well, my son was a student at a high school that was less than a mile from the back of the CIA building. I knew also that my mother and father, retired to South Carolina, would be having a conniption fit trying to figure out if I was ok - part of my career has always involved spending a substantial amount of time in Federal government buildings and the rumor mill had half of Washington DC in flames in those early minutes.

So I drove - slowly. Inched, actually. Kept re-dialing the phone until I had reached everyone who needed to be reached and had ensured that everyone, especially my son, was safe and out of the area of danger. My phone commitments thusly fulfilled, I turned on the radio. And the car crawled and I listened. Horrified.

Nature doesn't stop for a disaster - and sure enough, I had to use the girl's room. There is only one place on the stretch of Canal Road between Key and Chain Bridges where that is possible, and that's at the old Fletcher's Boat House. It gives access to the canal itself and has some very nice historical commentary in spots as well as picnic areas - and it had restrooms. I swung left off of Canal into the park entrance and ran to the girl's room. As I came out, it struck me - now fully outside - what a pristine and beautiful day it was. It struck me also how eerily quiet everything was - I didn't connect to the reason immediately but realized later that it was because there was utterly no air traffic (the Canal is often directly under the northern approach to Reagan National Airport). Coming back to my car I realized that traffic would be horrendous for quite some time. I had my bike on the back of my car (I am always one to have sports equipment handy, especially in the warmer months - golf clubs, a bike, my inline skates and a change of clothes are a mainstay in my car from April to November) and decided to change my clothes and go for a ride.

As I road I realized that many people who were walking along the canal had no idea that anything had happened. Some people knew, though - and at the lochs (the canal overpasses and water control devices) people would gather and tell others, who didn't know, the terrible news. The looks on the faces of the unknowing were likely very much like mine that first time my husband called - just a total lack of comprehension. It was beyond the pale and therefore difficult for the human mind to grasp.

So I rode my bike and remarked at the quiet and got away from the news for a bit (I had heard the towers fall on the radio report before stopping) - and I stopped and cried and wondered how different life and the world would be by the time I got back home, to my safe place, now no longer really safe.

That time of solitude - not necessarily of quiet, but of solitude, away from responsibilities and work and cleaning and bill-paying and everything else present in everyone's life - is something I try to observe every September 11th. In a way, observe it any warm, crystal clear, sunny non-humid day - those types of days are now, forever, "September 11th days". Residents of Washington who were here on 9/11/01 know what that means without saying and I'm sure New Yorkers do as well. It's the observance of beauty with an undertone of tragedy. For the rest of my life that will be 9/11 blue.

posted by RenaRF at 5:45 AM 0 comments links to this post


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