9.11.2007

Clarity

Generally, the only personal information you'll get about this blogger is my opinion on some urbanism-related issue. That's not to say that I take myself too seriously here; let's be real -- I'm no professional. But it seems incredibly disingenuous to write about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in any sense other than personal. It also seems odd to write about anything else today. Perhaps that's just a part of the cultural PTSD Americans are going through; we aren't haunted day in and day out, but once a year we all feel a yearning to share our stories about "that day" with each other. Even more interestingly, it's a day when most of us will actually listen to what one another have to say. At any rate, if you don't want to listen to my own account, consider this your fair warning.

And so.

I was still living in the Milwaukee area six years ago on the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I was away when from the television when the second plane hit, as well as when the towers fell, so the most potently visual events of the day will never be as vivid for me, I don't think, as they are for many Americans. I remember what happened, but not as it happened. September 11th is, for me, a day of video replays. I saw the images a million times before September 12th, but what happened has always felt distant to me.

In fact, what I remember most vivdly from the whole ordeal came several days after September 11th. There is a massive church in the hills to the northwest of Milwaukee called Holy Hill. Perched atop -- you guessed it -- a hill, the building's two steeples dominate the rural skyline for miles in every direction. One of the towers has a public observation deck, and I traveled out to Holy Hill with two friends on the Friday after the attacks. There was no particular reason for the trip; we were bewildered by what had happened, and were perhaps looking for that musty feeling of sanctuary that religious buildings can provide.

I had been to Holy Hill once before that day with my family, and I remembered being able to see Milwaukee's stubby little skyline, over 25 miles away, enshrouded in a typical urban haze. On the Friday after the attacks, when I returned to the steepletop room with my friends, the skies were the perfect blue of early autumn, and the urban haze that had hung over the city was vanished; the air was quiet in a way that changed my understanding of that phrase. Planes had been grounded for days, of course, and as a result the view from the tower was so clear you could practically see the windows of the individual buildings in the skyline. For some reason, that image of the city stretched out at the point where the early reds and oranges of the very leafy metro area dropped off into Lake Michigan (also visible from the tower that day) has always stuck with me.

Whenever I think back on the September 11th attacks, I remember the confusion and the anxiety that followed, while the attacks themselves border on the abstract, like a never-quite-forgotten childhood nightmare. And whenever I find myself in a position now that causes me great confusion and anxiety, I use the memory I have of the view from the tower at Holy Hill to remind myself that, oftentimes, tragedy and struggle can wind up clearing things up in a way that I had never expected.

Perhaps that's too literal of an interpretation; perhaps, as many are arguing lately, enough time has passed that emotional license has revoked for people writing about September 11th, and I've just made an ass of myself by adding to the pile of endless and unncessary pontification; perhaps this post is entirely off topic and completely inappropriate. Still, I felt compelled to write it.

I live under a flight path into O'Hare, and as I write this post I can hear jets flying overhead. Most days I don't notice, but today is different.

1 comment:

Henry Wendekreis said...

I appreciated the reading.