September Sky 2019

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As I travel East on Route 60 just beyond the Glen Ferris Inn I’m struck by the sky above the Three Rivers. I have always been a Sky wathcher. As a little kid I’d run outside every time I heard an airplane and look for the contrails. Today I still look up and count the contrails. But eighteen years ago my world changed.

I was working as a framer in a prefab home plant. The housing bubble was just in the early stage of collapse but the company managed to give us enough work to keep the machines running. We kept a radio up at full volume but you couldn’t really hear the music well over all saws and nail guns. We were working steadily but not hard because we wanted to try and get in a full shift. Suddenly all the machinery stopped. A slight feeling of panic washed over me because the last time this happened there had been a life threatening injury on the floor. I looked up to see who had pushed the emergency stop button and why. There was no blood on the floor and that was a slight relief. Then the voice on the radio announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. We switched over to NPR to hear more news just in time to hear that news announcer say “Write this date down.”. One of my coworkers knelt down and wrote in the sawdust. 911, Emergency. At this point we thought about the Hindenburg going down in flames. Then the second plane hit. I was in denial and having been allowed to shadow a radar operator as a kid I said that this was some kind of routing error. Then, the Pentagon was hit. The plant manager called for an extended break so everyone could gather their thoughts and deal with the fact that we were suddenly at war on our own land. The crew moved out of the plant and into the lumber yard. I looked up to see the deepest blue sky in my entire life. The crystal blue was completely unbroken by clouds and contrails. The old gospel song Uncloudy Day began to play in the back of my mind and I felt the peace of God replace those unsteady feelings. I wasn’t really sure what the future would hold but I knew that it would be okay.

It wasn’t long after that when they closed the plant but every year on September Eleventh when the T.V. shows those images again and those who were closer to Ground Zero tell their stories I can smell the sawdust and see that deep blue sky. And I can hear Uncloudy Day in my mind and spirit.

The sky is full of contrails once again. Even though I look forward to the Uncloudy Day spoken of in the song I’m comforted by the sight of passenger jets roaring through the sky.

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September Eleventh

They always ask, “Do you remember where you were on September eleventh, Two Thousand and One?” Yes, yes I do. I was working for the prefab housing plant and we had been able to transfer to a new plant that was closer to home. The housing market was really starting to drop off and work was slow. We kept a radio on because the internet was barely off the ground and in rural West Virginia the only access was at a public library. We were taking our good sweet time to complete the day’s assignments. It’s nice to be able to knock off early occasionally but when it’s every day it really cuts into a paycheck. The radio signal was very weak and the static was horrible but we could enjoy the classic rock as we double and triple checked our measurements. Through the static and over the sound of the hammers and power saws we heard the words Plane…Hit…Tower. The line boss hit the emergency stop and the whole plant fell silent. We changed the station on the radio and redirected the antenna to pick up the AM news station. The details were starting to come in and one of my coworkers was drawing with his finger in the sawdust. Being curious I stepped over to look at what he drew. The numbers 911. That was about the time that the first tower collapsed.

The boss shut the lines down for the rest of the day but kept us on the clock with the excuse that he was calling for more blueprints and didn’t want us to leave and then have to call us back in. I spent the rest of the day out in the lumber stacks looking up at the crystal blue sky. It was the first time since the early 70s that I couldn’t see a contrail.

I listened to the memorial service today. The thing that held my attention this year was the children and grandchildren of the 9-11 victims and the hope that they carry for the future. What was born out of all that pain and suffering was a generation that’s dedicated to the betterment of mankind as a whole. Young people who want to cure cancer and solve problems all kinds.

God takes the bad things that happen and uses them for our benefit. As we remember the past and the loss let’s not be trapped by the memory. Instead, let’s honour those who’s lives are memorialized in art and verse by building a future that they would be proud of.