The Parkside School, Brooklyn, New York, September 11, 2011
Ten years ago, I went to work early. I was in the office before 8:00 am. I taught political science at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. It was a beautiful blue-sky morning, and I hoped to get a lot of work done. My wife was in St. Louis on a work trip, so I was on my own. At some point in the morning, our Administrative Assistant, Jane, came running down the hall and ran into my office.
“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”
We went to the seminar room and turned on the television. Live coverage. There was the building, with smoke pouring out of it. Before I saw the pictures, I thought it must a be terrorist – but then once I saw the images I couldn’t believe it was a big plane. So I thought it was an accident. Maybe a small plane. And then, as Jane and I sat there, gape-mouthed and gazing at the television, another plane came into the view and hit the second tower. That was a big plane, and I couldn’t believe it.
After a bit, I went back to my office and put on the radio. I was listening to NPR as American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. At this point, I thought we were under attack, at war, and I was terribly afraid of what might be next. We didn’t know who was doing this, and it was very frightening.
I was able to talk to my wife later that day. She was stuck at the airport in St. Louis for a day. She was stuck but okay, and I was relieved to speak with her. By midday, we knew what had happened, but it was still scary and hard to believe. A couple weeks later, we found out that she was pregnant. We were going to have a child.
Ten years on, I spent this anniversary of the attacks in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. My son, Noel, had his first flag football practice today. He’s been waiting for this day for a long time – he loves football and so wants to play. He was incredibly happy, happier than I have seen him in other sports, and it was a joy to watch him play.
While the kids were practicing with Coach Marc, the other dads recounted where they were on September 11, 2001. One worked just a few blocks from the towers and managed to escape the area as the towers were falling down to the ground. The other had witnessed attacks from his apartment in Brooklyn, where he had a clean view of the events. He’d been taking photos of the skyline that morning, and only later, upon developing his film, did he realize that he’d caught images of the second plane flying into the second tower.
I didn’t live in New York then, but I do now. Noel was born on May 28, 2002, and I am raising him here. New York – or Brooklyn, more precisely – will be the place he always calls home. He has no memory of 9-11, though he knows what happened. All his life, his country has been at war. When I think about his life and my life, this post-9-11 world seems like a weird and different place, and this America is not at all the country I grew up in. Yet this is his country, and on this day that I remember with somber feelings and sadness, he had a great football practice. Later, we went home and watched the games on television. Then I called my brother and wished him happy birthday, like I do every year on 9-11.
Notes and Credits
Photographs by the author. The first is of the flag at half-mast at PS 130, The Parkside School. The school is just next to the entrance to the Fort Hamilton Parkway Subway Station for the F and G trains in Brooklyn. It’s where we live, and the site of an earlier post, Without the Truth, You Are the Looser.
The photograph of the airplane in the clouds was taken in Prospect Park, near the “dog beach.” That’s where my son’s team was practicing this morning. Prospect Park is beneath one of the main approaches to LaGuardia Airport, and you can hear the planes fly over every couple of minutes most days. Today, it was cloudy, low clouds, and the planes could only be seen in the haze, rocketing over us on their way into the airport. Fifty-one years ago, a plane crashed into Park Slope along that flight path. It was one of the worst disasters in New York history to that point; 134 people died in the crash. From 2004 to 2006, I lived on Sterling Place, the street where the plan crashed in 1960. My neighbor, Ms. Phipps was a witness that day and had told me about it. You can find a photo essay of it here.
Planes and clouds. It seems we have always lived under flight paths. In Minnesota, we lived just under main approach to the Minneapolis Airport. Noel’s first word was “airplane.” As we were leaving Prospect Park after practice, we saw a man selling bubble-making kits for kids. He filled the playground with bubbles as he walked along.