Every year at this time, I recollect what a perfectly beautiful September day it was. Driving my children to school that morning, I remember feeling grateful that the academic year had settled into a positive routine, especially for our youngest starting full-day kindergarten. The blue, blue sky affirmed that all was well. An hour later, in the grocery store checkout, I heard about the planes, and the sky took on a menacing, cruel hue, mocking my earlier contentment. I spent the day talking on the phone with friends and listening to NPR, alternately teary and trembling with fear and numb with shock. I watched a little bit of TV coverage but found the images so disturbing that I turned it off.
This week, prompted by the many 9/11 remembrances that I keep reading, I began to wonder if anything had really changed for me as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks and was surprised to realize that it had. Moving beyond the “where were you when” memories, I recalled the deep angst of the ensuing weeks and months, marked especially by a strong though undefined desire to “do something.” Such a horrific event seemed to call for some kind of gesture. The actions that emerged have become so much a part of my life I had nearly forgotten that they originated with 9/11.
The first was to begin composting. At an intuitive level, in response to such destruction I needed to care for the earth. I ordered online a large black plastic composter called the “Earth Machine,” and I remember assembling it at our old house and placing it amidst a grouping of fir trees. When we moved two years later, I insisted that we take the composter. Disassembling it and spreading the composted material amongst the trees, I marveled at the rich soil that had been created from our kitchen scraps. We collect them in old coffee containers on the counter and empty them as needed into the composter. That task, walking out through the garage around the corner of the house to the composter’s current home behind three large viburnum bushes, then opening up the round container, still feels sacramental to me. It strikes me now that reverence here is fitting, in recognition that few actual remains of those who died that day were able to be identified and properly buried.
My other response to 9/11 was to finally take the plunge into homeschooling the following fall. I had been considering the idea for a couple years, driven by a desire for a less pressured lifestyle, but doubts remained. Could we do it? Would it be a mistake? I remember being very moved by accounts of the cell phone calls made by those in the planes and the Towers, saying their last “I love you’s” when the end was imminent. The question, “If I died tomorrow, what would I want to be doing with my life?” didn’t seem too extreme against such a stark reminder of how abruptly loved ones can be taken from us. I am deeply grateful for the gift of time with my children during our six years of homeschooling.
Do these actions really mean anything in the larger scheme of things? Possibly not, but the realization that growth and life, however localized, were nurtured in the aftermath of tragedy bolsters a bit of hope for the decade ahead.