Almost ten years ago now, I watched in confusion and horror as the second plane struck the World Trade Center. My mind could not comprehend the images on my TV. A little later I happened to be watching again as a single human figure plummeted to earth: the massive devastation and destruction on view suddenly made individual and accessible to me. The one person became the many. All who perished were the one.
In subsequent days it was difficult to know what to do, how to act. Daily life had become different somehow: possibilities now existed that were previously unfathomable. How do you press forward when fear and uncertainty restrain you?
Within a few days restlessness and anxiety moved me. Perhaps from the unconscious or the subconscious, I don’t know; I purchased lumber and hardware, some soil and seedlings. I spent a couple days building a vegetable garden in a narrow and unused side yard of our old home.
Drill and screw, dig and lift. The simple act of physical movement lifted most of my torpor. That autumn of 2001 we planted kale and chard, spinach, kohlrabi, and radishes. The weather remained mild enough to harvest almost until winter. I did not realize at the time, but I had planted a Victory Garden, and the first year victory was over a deep sadness that had setttled upon me with those terrible attacks. You plant a seed, you hope.
Over the years I found myself in the vegetable garden when my stepmother surrendered to Lou Gehrig’s Disease and on the day we noticed our infant daughter could smile on purpose. Later, the garden became known as The Stuff to Try when she began to walk and talk. We created meals there, worked as a family, played in the dirt and snacked straight from it. A place of sorrow, renewal, and joy. When your hands are in the rich soil, you are of life and you live.
Ten years after witnessing that soul plunge from the sky, I have steadfastly avoided photographs, video, any annual marking of that day. I can
instantly recall the image, and in doing so take myself to September 11, 2001. The one person I saw in final freefall stands in for me for all who had life taken that day, and those who have given their life since. I refuse to have my hope damaged anymore, and believe that I, and we, and our nation can be better than we are now, and better still in the future. And so Sunday will I be as I have been each year, hands in the earth, wringing change, renewal, growth, and hope from the land. To the fallen, to those who love them, and to all of us who continue on in this strange new life we have lived since then, this is my memorial.