Ah, September at last. It’s been a long year, and a long hot summer, so the arrival of September brings relief, at least to the spirit if not yet to the body. With my biological clock having long ago been set to the circadian rhythms of the academic year, I feel automatically buoyed by the prospect of a fresh start in a fresh season (one that is my favorite) when back-to-school days roll around.
I got a jump start on fall over the Labor Day weekend when I made a quick trip up to Connecticut to surprise a dear friend on a landmark birthday. Actually, the trip was a last-minute decision, since I had lost track of exactly which birthday it was and so didn’t realized it was a big one until I called her to let her know that a gift was in the mail. She told me that her daughter was giving her a party over the weekend, not only just for her, but probably as much because the whole family needed a reason to celebrate after what had been a difficult year of illness and loss for all of them.
I felt badly when I got off the phone and decided that if I could get a flight and make the party in time for a surprise, then I would go. Better to celebrate than to mourn, after all. As it turned out, there was one airline that could get me from San Antonio to Hartford on the weekend, and one cheap(er) seat left. Obviously, it was meant to be, so I booked it.
The gods smiled on me the whole way: no delays, no weather, no traffic, and even an upgrade at the rental car desk from the “roller skate” I had reserved to a Chevy Malibu with a real engine. I soon found myself zooming down I-95, singing along with the radio as I drove. No fall colors dotted the Connecticut hills yet, but the day was crystal clear, autumn crisp, and sky blue, as many often are in early September in the Northeast. It immediately brought 9-11 to mind.
It has been eighteen years ago now, but anyone who lived and worked in the greater New York area then, as I did, can still tell you exactly where he/she was on the morning of September 11, 2001, and exactly how the news broke of the first crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. (EST). Then, as now, I was driving the Connecticut Turnpike, singing along with the radio on a glorious fall day, on the way to my Tuesday morning classes at the college.
Coincidentally, my husband was also driving I-95 at the same time, headed into Manhattan for a meeting. The news of the attacks came on the radio: first of the crash into the North Tower, which no one could readily identify; then the crash into the South Tower a few minutes later, which began to suggest an orchestrated attack; and finally, the crash into the Pentagon at 9:37, which confirmed all our worst fears. By the time I pulled into the school parking lot a little after 10, there were already preliminary reports of some “incident” unfolding in Pennsylvania. I got out of the car and stood looking up into the sky on this beautiful, flawless day, feeling glad to be alive and to have lived the life I had lived — and then I called my husband to say good-bye.
The days and weeks after that were spent in a state of suspended animation — closed schools, closed bridges, closed airspace, constant fighter jet and helicopter flyovers, stockpiling of food and water — all in anticipation of the next big event. Thankfully, it didn’t come, but those of us who were there then never believed it couldn’t happen again, and we certainly never forgot. I had booked a trip to Texas for early October that year, I remember, and there was much anxiety about that in discussions between me and my Mother and my son, who was also down in Texas in graduate school. Once the airspace reopened in New York, I decided I had to go as scheduled; I couldn’t live my life in fear. And I still feel that way now, having since made many trips all over the country and world, to Europe, Egypt, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and wherever else terrorists have or might have struck. My resolve comes from 9-11.
Oddly enough, so does my most vivid recollection of a perfect fall day.
I returned home from Connecticut last week to find skies here crystal clear and blue, too, and even temperatures slightly cooler — down to the high 90s. Knowing there would be little else beyond my own decorating efforts to suggest that fall had arrived in San Antonio, I had taken a collapsible bag with me on the weekend to fill with an “artificial autumn” from my favorite crafts and home stores up there. Thus, inspired by a few days in New England, nurtured by the warmth and affection of dear friends, and armed with some props to dress my house for the season, I am now enjoying fall, at least indoors, waking up each day glad to be alive and living the life I’m living.
“September morning still can make me feel that way.” (September Morn, Neil Diamond)