The following column was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 11, 2003. I could have written it today.
On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving to work as usual. Around 8:30, after hearing that all the routes to my office were clear, I switched from KWY to a music station. I kept switching back and forth between two classic rock stations trying to find something I liked, preferably from 1968. In the meantime, my brain was in its classic stream-of-consciousness overdrive, part of it paying attention to the road while the rest of it was engaged in random ramblings. “Next Wednesday’s Rosh Hashanah, so I better make sure I’m caught up at the office ….
“…. What should I make for all our guests for lunch? Chicken? Whole? Cutlets? Apricots or mushrooms? Nuggets for the kids ….
“…. Kids… Better get the invites for my son’s birthday party in the mail ….
“ …. Mail … wonder if the order from Amazon will come today? ….
“…. When are my library books due? I’d better call ….
“…. Phone calls … call and find out when I can pick up the key for the classroom ….
“…. Better email the instructor and find out when he wants me to visit his class ….
“….Why does my ABS warning light keep going on? Why does it keep going off? Where’s the manual? ….
“….Better clean out the glove compartment ….
“…. When can I get to a car wash? The car’s filthy ….
“…. Filthy, better get the house cleaned before the company next week. Gotta get the dining room table cleared off ….
“…. Where to put the unfinished jigsaw puzzle? Under the couch?….
“…. How many people? 8-9-10… oh, 12. Do we need a booster? Better plan to open the extra table ….
“…. Should I get cut flowers or a plant for a center piece? ….
“…. Maybe I should put some new flowers in the flower boxes on the front porch ….
“…. But something keeps digging them up ….
“…. Cat was in the backyard this morning, stalking the birds….
“…. Too sleek and healthy looking to be feral ….
“…. Why do people let their cats roam freely? They wouldn’t let their dogs out unleashed ….
“…. Or would they? ….
“…. Cats are my favorite animal, but not when they trespass in my back yard with murderous intent ….
“…. Check ‘net for statistics on numbers of birds killed by cats, life expectancy of outdoor vs. indoor cats ….
“…. Statistics … have to remember to compile the registration figures for the dean ….
“…. When’s the faculty meeting?….
“…. What time’s the back-to-school night? ….
“…. Where’s my Palm Pilot? Stop groping in your bag while driving ….
“…. Driving …. this traffic’s driving me crazy ….
“…. When are they planning to start the Rte. 73 overpass?….
“…. Rte. 73…. wonder when L. L. Bean is opening? ….
“….. Oops, here I am at the office. Oh, good, there’s actually a parking spot near the door.”
I walked into the lobby, said a casual “good morning” to the receptionist, who snapped back, “What’s so good about it?” Two hours later, our building was closed, and my thoughts on the drive home were very different. I was embarrassed by the banality of my earlier ones.
On the drive home, I kept hearing the voice of an Israeli student berating her classmates: “You Americans are so complacent. Now you know what we Israelis go through every day of our lives!”
I kept seeing the second plane slam into the side of the building, with the resultant fire ball.
I kept seeing the towers tumbling.
I kept switching from station to station, searching for the latest news, not Janis Joplin.
I worried about my friends who work in Lower Manhattan. “Is Carol, who is a deputy commissioner for New York City, okay? Is she helping with the rescue efforts? Do Phyllis and Henry, who are financial analysts, work near there? I know Paula, who lives on the Upper East Side, is on maternity leave, but where does her husband Drew work?….
“….And my kids. Have they heard? Is school canceled? How is my 8-year-old reacting? He must be terrified. How can I make sense of this for them when I can’t understand it myself?”
All truisms are trite because they are repeated time and again. But life does go on. I am back to my trivial thoughts. I’m planning this year’s Rosh Hashanah The traffic on Rte. 73 is still heavy, and L. L. Bean opened on schedule. Something is still digging up the flowers in my boxes.
But I’ve never again used the phrase “trespassers with murderous intent” about cats.