I was just about to park the car when National Public Radio interrupted its regular programming with a message that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
It seemed as though the announcer's grasp of the situation grew within the seconds of my hearing. First... it wasn't yet clear what had happened... then... it apparently was not an accident...
I saw a fellow worker as I was about to enter the Target store where we both worked. I said something to him about what I had heard; he just stared at me; he hadn't heard anything.
Upstairs in the breakroom the television was on. A bunch of us watched it for a long time before we went to work on the sales floor. It was the first time we, and the rest of the world with us, saw those images--now all too familiar--of New Yorkers running down a street, fleeing a monster cloud of smoke and debris, and a plane, silhouetted against the sky, serenely crashing into the first tower. Then, the second plane into the second tower. Mixed with the surreal images was the audio, news people announcing that a third plane had plowed into the Pentagon.
I was dazed when I left the break room. The rescuers were coming; the New York firemen would enter the buildings.
I kept thinking of the first attack on the World Trade Center-- the bombing. I remembered seeing people on stretchers carried out to the street, and people with bloody faces walking out to the street, some with help, some without. There was pavement in those scenes. And sidewalks. This was so very different. It was worse and I knew it was worse. I knew the upper floors were lost. But thinking of the first attack was my mind's way of limiting the destruction.
I went to work in the cosmetics section, my area. I was emotionally numb but the work was routine; it kept me busy. I was putting things back where they belonged--bottles of foundation, nail polish, packages of mascara, lipsticks.
My co-workers were always telling me they couldn't stand to do my job; it required too much attention to detail; it would be mind-numbing for them. But I liked it. I liked putting things in order; on some level it was comforting, it gave me a sense of peace. I was in control.
After a while I decided to take a break; I could find out more about what was going on. As I walked up the main aisle towards the break room, I saw one of my friends hurrying toward me.
"The first tower just collapsed," she told me.
I don't remember too much after that; I went upstairs and watched TV. I watched the second tower collapse.
I went back to work. There, alone in the cosmetics area, I felt somehow stripped; everything was different. I felt an immense wave of grief--the personal grief of hundreds of thousands of people--looming in the near distance, soon to break upon me, my country, the world. I felt helpless. Worse, I felt useless.
It's been six years: the war in Iraq began and continues, then, the Tsunami, then, Katrina...
All those years I've been mourning; I've kept on living, gone through the motions of living. I've found patches of hope, experienced the joy of having friends, loved my husband and my daughter. But I still felt helpless; I still felt useless.
I still do. But I am beginning to understand.
This is a loss too great for revenge to heal.
The order that satisfied has been shattered.
The lives of too many loved ones have been lost
Things can't be put back where they belong.
We have lost our world.
Can we find a new one?