If all goes as planned – with technology, you never know – I will be on the road, headed home on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when this post is published. I’ve had to do a little bit of pre-planning to ensure it happens. Gotta love the scheduled post feature! Here’s the deal: I have been blogging, on and off, in one place or another for a little over ten years. I have almost everything I’ve ever written saved, except for a six-month stretch in 2003. I rarely go back and read the old stuff anymore; those words belong to a different person. However, I did want to share what I wrote immediately following 9/11. I was still stunned – I think we all were – and thought the world as we knew it was coming to an end. In some ways that happened, as anybody who flies a lot can attest, but fortunately things weren’t as dire as I feared they would be. Still, I find it fascinating to look back on what I wrote one decade ago. Here it is.
The Empty Skies – 9/12/2001
I stood in the warehouse at work this afternoon, staring toward the heavens. Minutes passed, with nothing but a blanket of unbroken blue overhead. If this doesn’t sound very unusual, it is. My office is located on Airport Way in Portland. PDX is a few miles to the west, and we are directly beneath the flight path. Every few minutes on most days, a jumbo jet rumbles by overhead, either taking off to the east or landing to the west. It’s a noisy place to work, but you get used to the constant drone of the airliners day in and day out. Today, and yesterday, there was nothing but an eerie silence. The quiet, which normally would be welcome, came with a heavy price, for it served as a constant reminder of the tragedy that had befallen our great nation. And then, in the distance, a roaring noise. I craned my neck skyward, searching for a sign that things were returning to normal. A 747, perhaps. Even a commuter plane would have been welcome. A moment later, an airplane appeared in the sky. A jet fighter, a slate-gray F16 from the Air National Guard, raced by directly overhead. Several seconds behind, a companion jet followed. This isn’t exactly odd; once a day these same jets take off on training exercises, just one more plane in a steady and constant stream of air traffic. But today was different. Today, these were the only airplanes in the sky – and I knew they weren’t merely flying training exercises. This was the real deal, marking the beginning of the New Reality, and the sad end of the Old America. In the New Reality, nobody is ever safe. America’s borders can be breached. Death and destruction can find us in our own backyards. Already I grieve for the Old America, for the comforts and security she provided, even if they were false. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I am saddened that my children will never know the innocence that nurtured me for thirty-two years. Outside my house, a flag blows in the breeze, a symbol of my love and support for our great nation. Word is, people have been scrambling to find American flags, and many stores have sold out. I say, shame on those people for not already owning a flag. Mine will fly indefinitely, perhaps long after the last golden leaves have fallen from the trees, and winter’s chill has descended upon us. It’ll fly for however long it takes us to show the world that America’s spirit cannot ever be broken. With a flag flying dutifully, the skies somehow don’t seem quite so empty. God Bless America.
Post Script: I ended up flying that flag every day for one year. I never took it down; it weathered sun and wind and rain and snow and ice, fluttering in the breeze or resting still, 24 hours a day. I know you’re supposed to take the flag down at night, but I kept mine up to make a statement, finally removing it on September 12, 2002. It was an extremely patriotic time in my life, one rarely matched since (though my road trip across America this summer sparked a great sense of pride, as well).
12 thoughts on “Empty Skies and Reflections”
Beautiful post, Mark.
“With a flag flying dutifully, the skies somehow don’t seem quite so empty. God Bless America.”
I can’t tell how much this 10 anniversary has affected me. It’s strange, because I don’t think I ever really allowed my emotions to FULLY process what happened on 9/11/2001. It seems that my emotions have had a delayed reaction, that for these last two years I have felt the grief deeply. For the past few days, all I’m doing is having periods of crying.
I plan on going to NY next month and visiting Ground Zero, and I’m kinda scared at how I will react. But, it’s something I need to do.
Hope you’re having a wonderful time on your trip, buddy.
See ya when you get back!
Ron – I too would love to visit Ground Zero. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit the World Trade Center back in 1980. We went to the very top, one of the observation decks, and I’ll never forget the horizon stretching before me infinitely, even the other Manhattan skyscrapers looking no bigger than ants from that great height.
Thank you, Mark, for sharing this beautiful post! Looking back helps us see the way ahead, and for many of us, blogging helps us do that.
Can’t wait to hear about your weekend. Have a safe drive home.
God bless America!
Thanks, Kathy. I’m fortunate enough to have saved my posts from way back then – it’s very interesting to read again the grief (and fear) that was gripping my heart so tightly a decade ago.
The skies over central NJ are always full too; flight paths from Newark and NYC keep them that way under normal circumstances. I remember in the days immediately following 9/11, how still it all was, with no-fly in effect for commercial traffic. I remember going for a walk with my sister, and when a plane went over — normally an everyday occurrence, but suddenly a potential threat — we both looked up and flinched. We lived in the shadow of NYC, and the time could be counted in hours since death had struck from above. Like your experience, it was a jet on maneuvers, patrolling our skies. Like you, our reactions made us realize how much had changed in such a short time. But fears give way to resolve, and people pulled together in those dark days more than at any time in my lifetime.
Thanks for sharing this with us.
Normally I’m a fan of the quiet, but in those first few post-9/11 days the silence simply carried with it a sense of dread.
The most touching tribute I’ve seen today. Thank you for sharing.
Even though your entries from years ago might seem like they’re from a different person, they reflect how incrediably talented you were. And obviously still are. 🙂
Aww…thank you! You’ve been reading me forever, Tara – you should know. 🙂
Very well-written and very emotional. I will never forget what happened that awful, awful day as most people won’t forget. I miss the innocence that we had before and will never try to take advantage of knowing that we, as a nation, are really never safe…not like we thought before that day anyway.
I hope none of us never forget where we were.
And Mark? Reading this makes it seem like it happened just yesterday and not 10 years ago…like Tara said, you are so incredibly talented!! Thank you!!!
Fortunately, I think my kids haven’t suffered too badly from that lack of innocence I feared in the days following 9/11. They’re just pretty much used to the way the world runs now (which, admittedly, is a little more normal than I’d assumed it would be when I originally wrote this).
Nicely done Mark. I too remember that day and feeling a lot of the same. Each day that I see the F-15 Eagles take off from PDX, I remember what a great nation we have and what awesome airplanes are protecting us….
Keep on keeping on….and remember…Your attitude determines your altitude…