Thursday, September 8, 2011

We Shall Overcome But Never Forget

Think of the 1960s and early ‘70s and most likely you imagine bad. Bad hair—long, shaggy, or beehive. Bad clothes ranging from pink bell-bottoms (and yes, I speak from personal experience) to polyester suits and a hybrid cross between shorts and knickers called coolats. There was even bad war—the never-ending controversy of the Vietnam War. 

Just a toddler when JFK was assassinated I spent my childhood growing up in the fading whispers of the wonders of where the United States was heading. I vaguely remember when Martin Luther King was assassinated, but what followed, I believe, has remained with me all these years and has influenced who I’ve become. To this day I cannot listen to the song We Shall Overcome without choking up in tears.

Ten years ago, on a beautiful—it was the mild, crisp, sunny, blue-and white day one is convinced exists in heaven—September morning I left my home to drive up to Saratoga, NY to attend a writers’ meeting. Since I’d made this trip twice monthly for several years already I’d become accustomed to what was usual. That day, pretty much everything—except about 8-thirtyish AM there was this plane flying overhead taking an odd route for that day—flying west (from Boston?) but suddenly veering south as it neared Albany toward NY City.

Although I’d be presenting a workshop that day, rather than mulling the presentation I listened to the last part of the audio novel of HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG by Andre Dubus III. Wow, I thought when the riveting story ended. Three people, from three different backgrounds all wanting the same thing—a place to call home—and what they were willing to sacrifice for a place to kick back and cuddle up with a mug of coffee or tea or a can of beer. But then, I tuned the radio on.

Why was H.G.Wells’ War Of The Worlds being broadcasted? This was the turn of the 21st century—not the 1950s! I listened more but as if my brain had stopped functioning I couldn’t comprehend what all the talk was about. Airplanes? Twin towers? Hell erupting in New York City? I began to see police vehicles stopping people. I made it to my meeting with a tight gut and dry mouth. No . . .dear God . . .we’re not being attacked, are we? The president of the writing group dismissed the meeting and I drove the hour home. I stopped at the vet to buy cat food. I stopped at the convenience store to buy milk. Weren’t these essentials the kind of things you need to have when your country is turning upside down?

I don’t know. I still don’t.

What I do know is that September 11th9-11—two numbers that have taken on new meaning throughout the world—is basically similar to Mr. Dubus’ novel. Earth is a huge planet, filled with diverse people, and we all want the basics in life. A home. The right to food. The right to believe in the faith and God we choose. The right to have a lifestyle one wants. Yet, on that once beautiful day several people banned together to make what they believed was an honorary statement and to accomplish that feat they had to kill thousands. This was not the first time in history of humanity that this has happened. I pray to God it will certainly be the last.

Since that day ten years ago, I have changed. I try to be more kind to others. More accepting. More patient.

I write differently.

I pray much more.

May God bless us all,



  1. Elaine, a nice post in tribute. Since I'm older than you, it hit me differently. I'm not old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, thank goodness, but I remember my parents talking about it. On 9/11 2001, my husband and I were in Edinburgh in the middle of a lovely tour. As disturbing as that day was, what hit me more was two days later in England when we went to a church service in memory of all who had died on 9/11. Several things stick in my mind: 1. That all of the UK and Ireland were observing mourning with the U.S. and 2. while we were in the church service, harrier jets flew low over the church. Those of us from the tour didn't know there was a training base nearby, and we thought England had also been attacked. I'll never forget those moments. and 3. we didn't know when we would be able to return home. Fortunately for us, by the time the tour ended, we could return home as we'd arranged, but for several days we didn't know if that would happen. and 4. we wondered if there would be more attacks.

  2. Yes, Caroline, I remember watching the news and seeing so many travelers stranded. I'm glad you weren't. I also recall having some sort of PTD--for weeks I'd shudder while in bed hearing planes fly overhead. And I wasn't right at the scene either in NYC or in DC--can you imagine what those people suffered?

  3. On 9/11 I was working in an office building in Rockland County, 30 miles north of the World Trade Center. Since it was a clear day, we saw the tragedy unfold from our office windows. After they let us leave early, I went home, and my wife and I told our daughter, who was in kindergarten, what happened. Our daughter asked us if the plane crashes were an accident. No, someone crashed the planes into the buildings on purpose, we told her. She then went into her bedroom and cried for awhile. On that day something was taken away from her, as some simple innocence and naivete was taken from all Americans.

  4. Elaine,
    When the planes hit the Twin Towers I was at WalMarts, working as a greeter. We were all scared, feared there was a war and perhaps more of America was going to be bombed. My husband worked at the Alfred E. Smith building then and I feared....because it was a state would be next. We had only been married two years to the day at the time. Now every year on my wedding anniversary I think of the sorrow that day brought to so many Americans. It is only by my belief in the power of prayer and trusting in God that I see hope for our country. Unity and love is the only way any of us can survive.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Roberta. You're so right about trusting God--with everything!

  6. Fred, you had my eyes tearing up while I read your comment.That day has changed all of our lives. Even those who may claim it hasn't impacted them--well it has because it certainly has changed the concept of society, community, security and as a world we now share one thing in common:the fear of it happening again. But as Roberta said in her comment, you just have to trust in God.

  7. Elaine, I cannot read comments about nor watch shows about 9/11 without tears filling my eyes, even as they do now. I was living on the west coast at the time of the attack. Up a bit earlier due to a weekly sales meeting. My son called me, said,"Mom, turn on the tv. We're under attack. Two planes have flown into the Twin Towers and one hit the Pentagon.A plane has crashed in Pa." My first reaction was one of unbelief because it was unbelievable. He said, "No, mom,it is true. turn on the tv." I did and hung up the phone. All I could do was stand sobbing as I watched and cry, "God have mercy, God have mercy." No other words, no other prayer found their way to my lips. Somehow, I managed to get ready for work, though tears streamed down my face. The sales meeting continued but I could not attend. I sat at my desk, listening and watching the coverage. A certain amount of rage flowed through me at what seemed to be other people's apathy. It seemed they just didn't get it. Indeed that was probably the truth until they sat and watched the magnitude of the attack. For days I watched everything there was.. until the day came when my mind and heart said, "No more." The grief was too great. Enough was enough. Even now, as I recall, I can barely see to pin these words. Deep within lies a deep sadness and a rage against all within and without who would destroy our way of life,and our freedom

  8. Jo, thanks for your poignant words. You did something major when you called upon God to have mercy! I can definitely relate to your sense of sadness and rage. I will never understand how one person can take another's life.

  9. There is no doubt about the severity and
    tragedy of nine-eleven. While understanding
    the magnitude of the attack and the losses
    of life, Lory and I also had another perspective
    on the whole incident. After her graduation
    from RPI, our daughter Julie had taken an
    engineering job in Virginia for Siemens. At
    the time preceding 9/11, she was in remission
    from ALL leukemia, and had been assigned
    tasks in Dresden, Germany by her employer.
    In fact, she had soon-after invited us to visit
    her in Dresden, where she had shown us the
    beautiful city; and then driven us to Austria,
    the birthplace of Lory's mother. Julie had
    always loved the movie The Sound of Music,
    so it was a real pleasure to be in Salzburg
    with her. Soon after came the attack of 9/11.
    That morning, Julie called me at my workplace
    to find out what was going on. At that early and
    initial stage, around 25,000 body bags had
    already been ordered to be sent to NYC, just
    in case; and I didn't sugarcoat what had just
    happened, although I told her that we (U.S.)
    would bring the enemy to justice. Shortly after,
    Julie started feeling poorly; and when she went
    to her pre-arranged doctor in Dresden, sure
    enough it was a relapse. Julie had to get back
    to Virginia, and quickly. But it was not easy as
    air travel was very difficult for awhile. She did
    make the trip (a nine hour flight by herself),
    knowing what lay ahead for her, with a lot of
    time to think about it. We, along with a group
    of Julie's friends, met her in Richmond at the
    airport, and we went directly to MCV, a great
    Virginia hospital, and started the search for a
    bone marrow transplant. Things got back to
    relative normalcy, if there was a 'normal' at
    that time; and Julie continued her long fight
    with this horrible disease. She finally lost
    the battle in January of 2003. But did the
    shock of 9/11 have any influence on the
    deterioration of Julie's health, leading to
    her relapse? Probably not, we'll never
    know. But that's how we saw the events
    surrounding 9/11.
    Robert Frezon 9/11/2011

  10. Bob, my heart breaks--again--for you and Lory. You've helped to expand the perspective of a day no one will forget. 9-11 has left a pang in our souls. Families have lost loved ones from natural causes (unrelated to the attacks) on that day & following. Babies were born that day, and of course, following. Whether heartache or celebration of a new life, all will be marked by that September date. We're human--and that's what folks do--mark special occasions with associations.

    I'm so sorry for the passing of your daughter Julie. I know she had--and still does-- hold a special place in your heart. You're blessed because no one or no world-wide event will ever separate you and your daughter. She lived in your and her mom's love, unconditionally, and that is beautiful.

    You're a good dad. A good husband. A good American.

    No strike of terror from anyone else will ever take that away.

    And, I pray that is what we learned on 9-11: our very core, our souls, cannot be compromised.


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