Where were you on 9/11? It’s a common question we ask every year on this day. A tragedy ingrained in our memories and wherever you are in the world you will likely have that recollection of place and time.
Looking Back – Coincidences
There are some coincidences in my recollection of that fateful Tuesday 20 years ago. President George W. Bush was here in Sarasota, Florida, where I live. I remembered this as I was driving to work and passed some protestors on the corner of a main intersection. On that morning he was talking with a class of elementary students at a local school when the first attack happened at 8:46 AM. I was a few miles away working at a job fair. I was on the opening team of a luxury brand hotel that was due to open two months later and we were just getting ready for our second day of interviewing potential staff. Some of us were sitting together in the break area prior to opening the doors. One of the other team members put their head around the door and said “Come and see what’s on the TV. A pilot has just crashed a plane into one of The World Trade Center buildings.” We all looked at each other thinking it must be a small 2 or 4 seater private plane. There is no way a commercial pilot would do that.
That was just the beginning of the awful events that would unfold throughout that day and the following days, weeks and months and years. You know the rest. Sadly, it did not end on that day. Thousands dead and then we went to war with Afghanistan for the past 20 years and even more dead to mourn. To this day there are still people dying from the fallout of 9/11.
We also discovered in the days following 9/11 of another local coincidence. Several of the terrorists who hijacked the planes had been receiving pilot training at a flight school just 20 miles south of Sarasota in Venice, Florida. Why this part of Florida was front and center of that horrific day, I don’t know.
Fast Forward – 20 Years On
This week our local bookstore sent out an email to its subscribers to share a beautiful poem by Billy Collins, a New Yorker, who wasthe U.S. poet laureate at the time of the 9/11 attacks. A year later, he wrote a poem,The Names, in honor of the victims. He read the poem before a special joint session of Congress held in New York City in 2002, and here he reads it again. I had not heard it before and it is really quite moving. It is so beautifully written and you will likely want to listen to it or read it more than once. The poem is also listed below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Rest in peace all those whose lives were so tragically taken on 9 /11/2001.
Where were you on 9/11?
The Names by Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds -
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
—Billy Collins (c) 2002
*This poem is dedicated to the victims of September 11 and to their survivors.
Stream of Consciousness Saturday - Where