In the Confusion of 911, We Stay Together

This posting day is always bittersweet for me. This day of hardship for many was a day of celebration for me, and today it is the 20th anniversary of our marriage. Yes, Linda and I married on this day in 1994 seven years before there was any trouble in 2001!

On this day in 2001 my wife was teaching third grade in the Bronx and I was writing my research at home on the upper west side. The tv was on and I saw the station break in to announce that the first plane had hit. I called Linda’s school and they said all was fine. When the next plane hit, I called again and on the landline (old fashioned phone) was able to speak with her. She told me that she would supervise pick up of all kids and that she and three other teachers would walk across the bridge to Manhattan. I told her I would drive up 3rd Avenue and pick her up. She was about 8 miles away from me.

I cut across Manhattan from the upper west side to the upper east side on 96th street. When I got to 3rd Avenue, I turned left, and proceeded north, but I did notice that the intersection was controlled by police academy recruits, and that travel further east to the Triboro Bridge was prohibited. Our island was shut off to outsiders as the bridges were closed to car traffic and the police were telling everyone to go home.

People were streaming uptown along 3rd Avenue. No subways or busses were running. Some of the people were carrying their high heals, some of them had ties loosened, shirts out, jackets off, and some of them had smoke or grey dust on them. It was possible to guess at how close they had been to ground zero.

When I found my wife and her three colleagues walking south as I was driving north I was very relieved! We had somehow bridged the island gap, bridged the 8 miles between us, survived the bombing of our island. I picked them all up and delivered the other three to their apartments. I took Linda home to our dog and the three of us hunkered down, listening to the sirens on the upper west side highway. It was now the major route for all emergency vehicles coming to help, and every state police car, every ambulance, every reefer truck for the refrigeration of the deceased came past our apartment. The smell of the ground zero smoke came up the river as the helpers drove down.

In this most distressing time, in all of this confusion, we were together. We said things and wondered about things we did not know, but mostly we stayed very close, safe in the arms of each other’s presence. We did not go out to dinner. We got stuff ready to take downtown to the emergency workers.

Ever since, however, we do go out, and we do have dinner together, and we do celebrate our day of marriage by being together. We do this because it is important to keep your rituals in hard times. It is important to keep students in regular patterns during times of emergency, it is important to do these regular things as a way of providing consistency, of staying together, because we together are stronger than any divisive emergency. I think of Walt Whitman, of the Civil War, of Pearl Harbor and so many other times of confusion. “In the confusion we stay with each other, happy to be together, speaking without uttering a single word.”

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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