Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Strength in Community

By Linda Grupp Boutin 

We watch history unfold before our eyes every day. The very first historical day I remember with clarity was a November day, crisp and cool despite the sunshine bathing all around me. We were summoned from our 3rd grade classroom to the playground where we held all-school assemblies. The principal told us that we were being excused early that day because the President had been shot in Dallas. From that moment until JFK was buried, we joined the rest of the country first praying he would be okay, then mourning the loss together, finally admiring his son saluting the casket of our fallen leader.

My parents had required we watch as rockets left the earth and allowed us to watch history unfold as witnesses to a presidential assassination. That wasn’t the only assassination I saw, there was the time George Wallace was shot—hit by a bullet and confined to a wheelchair for life. We lost Martin Luther King and I was watching the night RFK took a bullet. It seemed to me that a public life could be a very dangerous thing. 

There had been a Cuban Missile crisis that I could not understand except that my mom was terrified for my brothers in the US Marines. We prayed for their safety. Many young men I knew dreaded turning 18 and being forced to sign-up for the draft. My sister’s husband received a high number and we tracked the Vietnam War nightly on the TV.

I understood nothing was assured on this earth, but though traumatic, these events seemed distant, rarely touching me on a personal level. Events paraded through my life, Apollo space capsule fires, earthquakes, floods, tornados. I watched when the shuttle exploded just after liftoff killing all aboard. I knew this world to be dangerous.

So when 9/11/01 rolled around, though the world certainly wasn’t safe, I never expected the day to unfold as it did. I woke to my dog curled behind my knees a bit earlier than normal. I switched on the news to watch The Today Show and was shocked into full alert. A huge fire burned in New York City and it took a few minutes to realize a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. I woke Gary and he joined me just in time for us to witness the second plane crashing into the second tower.

Time entered a strange warp with us consuming every detail as it was reported by CNN. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, they grounded all flights, President Bush came on the air to help the country cope, Washington DC was evacuated, another plane crashed in a field. About then the phone rang and Gary’s interview for a computer job was cancelled; the company had been headquartered in the now melted Twin Towers. My boss at the library called and said we would not open that day and to stay home. We stared at one another in horror, how could this have happened? We heard commentators begin to whisper about terrorism and the pieces began to fall into place.

Nervous energy compelled us to do something, anything to try and cope. We decided to go and stock up at Costco and when we arrived at the store it was evident we were not the only ones to think this way. We put everything away and wondered what to do next. I wanted to go to church, but didn’t want to leave the news feed. Praying silently I petted my dog and tried not to imagine how many were in the destroyed buildings. Gary could not sit still anymore and pulled out a square canvas he had built.

I watched fascinated as he took a pencil and string and drew concentric circles on the canvas. The company he had hoped to work for never recovered. Eventually the library reopened, but they kept the TV on every moment they were open monitoring the level of alert the country was in. Not quite willing to accept that another attack was not imminent. CVCC contacted the congregation inviting us to attend all church prayer. Shell-shocked and stunned, I can’t remember anything about the service though I seem to remember we went.

Days passed by and Gary’s pristine white canvas filled with images and colors. The circles remained but filled with red and white, the center turned blue, the exterior of the circle orange and black. Stars filled the field of blue, the largest centered on the canvas. The damaged towers rose again to the right with a US flag filling the opposite side. A strange, dark earth appeared at the bottom covered with an equally dark hand. Fireman and helicopters appeared near the towers, the first responders coming to the rescue. Finally a snake wound its way down from the top, threatening but not overcoming the red, white and blue…

A picture can say 1,000 words, but this one says so much more to me. It says keep the faith, better days can come if we join together and strive to repair after an attack. Thirteen little colonies joined together to defeat the pre-eminent world power of that day. Shortly thereafter, the fledgling country had to reinforce the lesson of freedom. Smaller wars came and went, older countries decided they wanted freedom too following our footsteps, and Civil War tore us to shreds only to come back together in unity to free the enslaved and give all an equal chance. When we come together in unity with our community, we are the strongest country in the world. Let’s all join together and rebuild our country again today, overcoming as we did in the Great Depression. We can do it all again, if we choose to join one another and try.