I never cease to be amazed at people and their stories. I have had many opportunities in life to sit back and listen to another person tell their story. Sometimes they need to be asked a few questions to get started, but whether a slow start or an immediate one, the look on their faces as they verbally re-create their life experiences, is always the same: that of contained excitement. Excitement that they are able to share something that is so uniquely intimate to them, as well as the increased hurriedness of their speech as the experiences are revived in their minds as their words translate those memories into verbiage.
9/11 this year was a day filled with stories. Whether it was broadcast on mass media or just around a cup of coffee with a friend, many people told their wholly unique account of a country’s shared story.
I was running a few errands this past Friday and had NPR on the car radio. As the callers cried, so did I. Grown men that talked as assuredly as they could until finally that building lump in their throat constricted and their emotions were divulged to the listening audience. One man talked of his mother dying in Building 1. She died from the rivets in the walls popping loose and hitting her just so. “I am angry at that building!”, he adamantly spoke. “I am angry at the people who built that building.”
Our minds are such complex organs. They seek to find something to latch onto. The grieving process is a strange and circuitous one. Someone who has been through the odd pathways of grief can understand his real (if even misplaced) anger at a building for taking his mother too soon…
On Saturday, September 12, Scott and I were driving to Iowa and I listened as he recalled his memory of September 11, 2001. He was a dispatcher at the time, in Omaha. He remembered the large glass building that he worked in with large grids on the walls of incoming and outgoing trains. They were immediately locked down. No one was to leave and no new dispatchers were allowed to enter the building for relief duty. Transportation was one of the biggest perceived threats of the day for fear that terrorists would infiltrate our modes of travel. The railroad transports one of our largest “staples” in American society – fuel. The dispatchers were told to stay calm and to be a calming agent to the field personnel who were working the trains and to whom they were communicating directions. All the while huge barricades were being placed around the Harriman Dispatch Center to thwart any drive-by terrorists from crashing into the railway brain of Union Pacific.
I asked Scott what it felt like to be severed from his family during such an intensely scary time. I have always wondered what it would be like to be the spouse of a president or vice-president, as they are whisked off to safety, while you are taken elsewhere. Okay, so Scott didn’t rank QUITE that high, but I saw a small opportunity to find out how it might have felt. After all, family is family no matter how ‘important’ you are. Scott was lucky that he was able to talk to his family. Find out what they were doing and where they were at all times. But he said there was also a sense of protection not just for his family, but for his country. For his engineers and conductors. He had a sense of urgency that what he was doing was pivotal to the safety of the nation’s fuel supply. Food supply. For the continuation of ‘business as usual’ that our country so desperately needed protected at this given moment in history.
Scott told me about sitting in the glass-walled building listening to news reports that all planes had been grounded – restricted from taking off. He said they heard a huge airplane engine outside their windows as an F-16 flew over Omaha. The news talked about taking the President to an undisclosed location, as Scott and his fellow dispatchers stood at the glass windows and watched Air Force One fly right behind that first F-16. The engines of Air Force One cut through the city’s silence as it swooped down close enough to the city to see the writing on the airplane, heading to the home of SAC (Strategic Air Command) in Nebraska. He said it was an eery feeling as the calm of the city was interrupted by the revelation that the President was being hidden in the middle of the country. Each of them feeling privy to information of which CNN and the country was not yet aware.
Stories define our lives. They make us uniquely different from our neighbor, yet simultaneously serve as the unifying link to the grander story of human existence. They are proof of God’s protection and grace and sacred sense of humor. They point to the proof that friends and family are the byline that we all possess. Stories are rarely told anymore; yet are the potential conduits to peace in our world.
Show and tell!
Share your story; verbally or written.
Listen to the stories of your fellow sojourners.
Graham crackers, rocking chairs, sitting on your carpet squares…
Maybe our 2nd grade teachers were on to something.