Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 36

September 5-11, 2002

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Not Even on a Fine Summer Day Will We Forget
by M.L. Faunce

Standing in a haphazard queue on a fine late summer day, beachgoers waited to tour the lighthouse on Assateague Island. We resisted the cooling ocean surf calling from across the marshland to climb the historic red and white striped light that was built in 1867 and is now open only a few days a year.

A couple in front of me had gotten the skinny from the Coast Guard officer on duty: “One hundred and ninety eight steps to the top,” the wife said. “Cool all the way up until you get up under the refracted light, where it will make this 90-degree day seem like air conditioning.”

When suddenly, she explained, she broke out in goose bumps. “I live on Long Island, and whenever I think of steps, I think of all those people climbing down the Tower on September 11.”

Her husband rubbed his arthritic knees at the thought and added, “I was driving across the Brooklyn Bridge on my way to work when I saw the first plane slam into the World Trade Center.”

September 11 still permeates our consciousness. Like the generation who remember D-Day or those who recall their whereabouts when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, few seem able to forget the most horrifying day Americans ever experienced on home soil.

My office, a stone’s throw away from the Capitol, quickly shut down September 11. I drove home in the bright sunlight, eerily quiet. I chose to drive east on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Bay country rather than risking the Third Street tunnel under the Washington Mall. No one told the workers paving Pennsylvania Avenue that their country was under attack from terrorists. Puzzled by the mid-morning rush of cars away from the city, they toiled on, a stifling hot steam rising from the asphalt just laid.

On the car radio, I learned that former Senate colleague, Barbara Olson, had called her husband from a cell phone, the plane she was on now diverted toward the Pentagon. The first person to report that terrorists were armed with box cutters, the crack attorney was as persistent in getting the facts while facing death as she had been in embracing life.

Like everyone else’s, my home phone recorded the worried words of family and friends from across the country. My brother’s haunting voice, “Mary Louise, I don’t know where you are, but I love you and hope you’re safe,” and the sweet messages from nieces and nephews and friends stayed on my machine for months.

This spring, I listened to a commencement address by David Halberstam, author and historian, urging graduates to do something that “makes you feel like a part of something larger than yourself.”

I don’t know if he was thinking about September 11. On that day, we all discovered that ordinary Americans did extraordinary things. And in the days that followed, we thought about ourselves and our fellow citizens in a whole new way. Most Americans, it seems, won’t soon forget about September 11 — not even on a fine summer’s day.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly