Our apartment is on the eighth floor of a meatloaf-shaped building facing southeast over Route 50 in Arlington, Virginia. The view is quite pleasant, thanks to the many trees both outside our big windows and blanketing Fort Myer across the road. If you get close enough to the glass you can see the Washington Monument to the left.
I remember lying dreamily in bed two years ago this morning, bathed in sunlight and listening to Suanna getting ready for work. I was teaching Monday-Wednesday-Friday and it was a Tuesday, so I was looking forward to a lazy morning bike ride followed by some paper grading. NPR was crackling from the bedside clock radio; the Morning Edition commentator was saying something about a plane flying into one of the World Trade Center towers. This was still early in the day, before any sense of alarm had built up. We figured they meant a little prop plane of some kind.
Forty minutes later I was lacing up my shoes and trying to decide where to bike to that morning. I had settled on a short loop (down the Potomac, up past the Pentagon, and back again) when Suanna called from work and told me to turn on the TV.
A few minutes later, I was watching the towers burn when a big boom rattled all the windows. My first thought was that something terrible had happened, and my second was that I was just being paranoid letting what was going on in New York color my view. A little while later a big cloud of smoke appeared behind the trees, from somewhere on the other side of Arlington Cemetery. I closed my eyes and summoned a mental map, trying to figure out what had been hit. I realized it must be the Pentagon.
At that moment, and for a little while after, it seemed possible that this was just the beginning, that planes were going to start crashing into things all across the country, that society was going to collapse, that it was the end of the world.
The world did end for over three thousand souls that death swallowed in the attacks that day: Aamoth to Zukelman, Amundson to Zheng, Adams to White. Not for the rest of us. Our work is to build up from the destruction a world better and wiser than it was, both for our sakes and to honor their memories. It has been hard work, dogged by fear. “Nous sommes tous Americains.” The world is watching. Let’s keep trying.