16 September 2004

Three years and five days later

I was dealing with a family health issue last Saturday.  Thus I did not get the opportunity to write about the third anniversary of 9/11 on the actual day.  I had not planned on writing about it since it passed, partly because I felt that the opportunity was gone, and partly because I had decided to lay off political postings until 9/15. 

Then I stepped outside today.

Every year around this time the sun seems to shine a little brighter than it does in the middle of summer.  I know it is getting lower in the sky as we approach autumn and (UGH) winter, and I notice that the daylight disappears earlier with each passing day.  It also seems to me that we have more perfect weather days around this time than at any other point in the year.  Today is one of those days; there is not a cloud to be seen, the sky is a deep blue, unaffected by smog and haze, and it is warm, but not humid.  When we have a day like this I always wonder if this will be the "last perfect day" of the season, if tomorrow will bring the chill that autumn promises,to be eventually followed by the long slide into winter.

September 11, 2001 was one of those "last perfect days," both here in Chicago and in New York City.  Since then, whenever it is like it is today, I remember the irony of how such horrible things can happen on such beautiful days.

I remember more about the night before 9/11 than I do the actual day.  I was at Wrigley Field with two friends watching the Cubs beat the Reds.  I have been to dozens of games with these two friends.  We pay close attention to the action on the field, but we also laugh and have fun.

Since Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray died in 1998, the Cubs have instituted an obnoxious tradition of having a celebrity sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch.  I don't like it because it has become a promotional tool for someone who has a movie coming out or a TV show on the network that televises the games, and there have been some truly awful moments in the last six seasons.  The three of us attending the game that night agree that this rite has gone on too long and needs to be retired.  As such, usually at some point in the game one of us will say "so who's singing tonight?"  It becomes a competition, who can come up with the most obscure, pointless person.  My personal favorite was a suggestion (and this is about as obscure as you can get) that the "world's heaviest twins" that were always pictured in the Guinness Book of World Records sitting on motorcycles when I was a kid get the opportunty to sing.

On September 10, 2001 when the topic of the 7th inning stretch came up, one of the group suggested Osama bin Laden.  We laughed at the thought of him singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and even changed some of the lyrics for him.  Then we watched the rest of the game and forgot about it.

The next morning I had a doctor's appointment at 8:30, and I slept as late as I could before it, so I did not watch television or even listen to the radio before I got into my car.  When I did turn on the radio, it was on a sports station and there was a discussion about Michael Jordan's expected return to the NBA that season.  I had little interest in that, and went to change the dial when I heard the announcer say that while it was an "awful morning", they were going to stick to sports until they could provide credible reporting on the planes that had flown into the World Trade Center.  I switched to a news station and found out what had happened.

It was eerie at the doctor's office.  Everyone there was very uptight, and I could see several televisions on in the offices behind the front desk.  After a short wait, I was called and went into an examination room to wait for the doctor.  I waited a long time, over half an hour, and I had no idea what was going on outside.  All I knew was that two planes had crashed in New York and that it most certainly was not an accident.  Sitting there alone for as long as I did during those events was the single most isolating experience of my life.  When my doctor came in I said "good morning" to which he replied "there's nothing good about it."  He told me about the plane crashing into the Pentagon and that there were other planes unaccounted for.

When I was finished I was supposed to go to work, but since my store at that time was in downtown Chicago, I decided to wait until I knew what was happening.  I got into my car and turned on the radio just in time to hear the description of the last tower falling.  I will never forget the voice: "The World Trade Center is now gone."

I decided to go to my parents' house.  There was a Dunkin' Doughnuts nearby and I recalled that the Cubs had a promotion with them, if the team won you could get a free cup of coffee by presenting your ticket stub from that game the next day.  I had two stubs from the night before, and decided to get a coffee each for myself and my father.  Standing in line, I recalled the comments that were made the night before about the seventh inning stretch and who we thought should perform it.  I didn't feel guilty or shaneful for having laughed about it, who could have predicted what was going to happen ten hours later?  It was just an eerie feeling, and I felt a sense of remorseful irony.

Downtown Chicago was indeed a mess, and I did not go into work until well into the afternoon.  I spent most of the day watching TV with my father, discussing the events and trying to make sense of it all.  Death has never seem as senseless to me as it was that day, and I can remember the saddest thing to me, sitting there, was not only thinking of the people who had died that day, but also of the people that were going to die in the future, from the necessary US response, from further acts of terror, from whatever resulted from this day.

My father died from natural causes that following June 8, in as sudden a manner as those that did on 9/11.  I can't think about 9/11 without thinking about him because of the time we spent together that day, like we did so many days before, and how in some ways that indeed was the last perfect day, but that for me, there was at least one day just as tragic to follow.  I just wish it didn't have to come as soon as it did.

9/11/01 and 6/8/02 were the end of something, the end of the "last perfect days."


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