15 years ago today, I woke up, took a shower with the sound of a bubbling stream in the background and headed to work. In the first mile of my hour long commute, the radio announcer kept saying “how are we going to explain this to our children”, over and over again. I wondered what he could be talking about. A few minutes later I made it to the gas-station to fill-up and grab a cup of coffee before heading down to the Valley. I asked the attendant what the news was. He said a plane hit a building in NYC.
I finished filling up and continued my drive into work listening to the radio, thinking it was just a horrible accident. Mid-way through the winding highway through the Santa Cruz Mountains, the story of what was happening finally started to unfold.
One plane. Two planes. A third. Maybe a fourth. Were there more? As I drove through the peaceful winding road through the mountains, people on the other coast jumped to escape the flames in an unimaginable final act of self-mercy. Others fled for their lives. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go! Keep going! Let’s get out of here!
A tower collapsed on the east coast. Boom, boom, boom. One tower down. Boom, boom, boom. A gashing wound in the Pentagon. Thousands of lives were lost. . A field torn. As I wound my way to work the second tower collapsed. Manhattan was being evacuated. Thousands of ash covered faces filled the streets, all heading towards the shore. Day turned to night. Boats filled the harbor, ferrying people to safety. Refugees in our own country. Was there more coming?
The skies fell silent. My office was only a few miles from the airport.
A few days later, the Proms played Barber’s Adagio. A flag was raised, proudly in the air. I pulled out my viola out of the closet for the first time in 25 years as the ash settled and the rubble and remains started to be cleared. I called my mother and told her I loved her.
This summer at Interlochen, 15 years later, I spoke with a clarinetist at length. He works for an architectural firm that was housed in a high-rise next to the WTC towers and witnessed the event first-hand. His office lost some people who were working in the buildings at the time. His firm was contracted to design the new WTC complex. He personally designed the top antenna. I half-joked that he designed a giant middle finger pointing straight up in the air in an act of defiance. He confirmed that was indeed the intention as tears slid down his face. We sat together in silence.
This past Labor Day, my quartet started working on Barber’s Adagio. The hum from inside the helicopters on that day is the same pitch as the opening notes of the movement. The music acts as stitches that holds the wound closed until it heals.
Those children that the radio announcer spoke about are now adults. Never Forget.
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