The morning of September 11, 2001 I was in band class. We had just finished our morning marching practice and had come in to begin rehearsing music. We were sweaty; it was hot and muggy outside. It’s always hot and muggy down on the Texas Gulf Coast, but I remember the feel of my shirt sticking to my back as the PA system began to crackle.
I remember listening to the announcement that the Twin Towers had been attacked and observing my shoes: black and navy Vans, old and falling apart with doodles on the sides. I remember thinking my shoes looked small covered by my in-fashion-at-the-time flared pant legs.
What I don’t remember is what I felt when I heard the announcement. Scared, I suppose, and nervous. The town where I’m from sits in the middle of major oil and chemical refineries, not far from the Port of Houston. I could tell from the way the teachers talked they were scared, too, and for a while no one knew if we were staying at school or if our parents would be called to take us home.
Our band director came in during all of that anxious raucous to announce that he would be going home for the day. He was from New York and his brother-in-law, as well as several friends, worked in the Towers.
During second period we watched footage, over and over again, of planes flying into the Towers. How they exploded, how they toppled. My English teacher announced matter-of-factly that we were at war.
And so we were.
September 2011 was also the month when I began dating my first boyfriend, a relationship that lasted almost five years. It was the month of my first kiss. It was three months after my god-brother died in a tragic car accident. Needless to say, those months in 2001 shaped my teenage life.
Slowly I began hearing of older siblings of my friends who went off to join the military. On a shocking evening in 2003 my brother announced that he, too, was joining the Army. As high school passed more people I knew joined up, and my graduating class contained a good number of kids who went to bootcamp the week after graduation. I grew up in a small, patriotic, conservative Texas town. It’s just what was done if you weren’t going to college or didn’t have a job lined up.
The specter of Iraq and Afghanistan, wars initiated by 9/11, hung over my life. All of our lives. My ex-boyfriend’s father died in Iraq, as soon as he stepped foot off the plane to drive trucks for Halliburton. My brother fought in Baghdad.
When I heard of the death of that man (I can’t even write his name it disgusts me so) I confess I only felt mild surprise. We did it? They did it? Really? I woke up my husband as soon as I heard, not quiet sure why I was doing so. I just knew that for my generation this was a defining moment.
As I pondered this yesterday the phrase the Wheel turns kept echoing in my head, and indeed it does. The Wheel of the Year doesn’t just refer to a benign changing of seasons. It’s not some hokey construction that allows Pagans to party every six weeks. It has real, definable meaning in our lives. The Wheel of our lives, individually and collectively, keeps turning. Sometimes it seems to be stuck in the same repeated motions–wars that go on indefinitely, a bad situation at work, an extended adolescence–but eventually it will turn. By tragedy, by triumph, by the inevitable tilting of our planet towards and away from the sun.
This morning as I listened to NPR they had a widow on who lost her husband in the attacks. She recounted receiving a phone call from him after he knew he couldn’t get out. They just stayed on the line together, him repeating “I love you” over and over again, until the signal cut.
Her sorrow brought up so many of my own, so vividly and immediately, that I left the room. As I looked out into morning and saw the rays of sun beginning to gild the grass, I remembered the phrase from the night before: the Wheel turns. I briefly acknowledged my beloved dead and sent them my own sorrow at their loss.
In that moment of remembrance, with the thoughts of 2001 fresh on my mind I reflected in the ways my life has changed. I graduated high school, went to college, went overseas, married, bought a house, had a child. Converting to Christianity and then evolved on into Paganism. Grew from child to adult, from maiden to mother. The Wheel turned and turns still. My daughter will never know a world with that man in it. I wondered briefly who the monster of her childhood would be, hoping there wouldn’t be one yet knowing there would be. The Wheel has already begun to turn for her life, too.
Soon, before we know it, it will be Samhain again. We will sit at dumb suppers, create shrines for our beloved gone and our ancestors. Some of us might remember those of us we lost in the wars, in the Towers, and to millions of other everyday tragedies. Some of us might even note the passing of that man, glad that the Otherworld has him.
Will I? I don’t know. All I know is that the Wheel turns, grinding on, bringing us both life and death, tragedy and triumph, sorrow and joy.