Friday, September 10, 2021

The Day The Sky Went Silent


I worked in a downtown Dallas office building in those days. My 7th floor office window, on a clear day, commanded a look of the flat, indistinctive North Texas landscape that was so broad and distant that one could almost make out where the Earth's surface made its subtle curve toward the other side of the planet. However, on most days the smog and ozone cleared only enough to reveal the lower parking levels of a nearby office building. So instead of marveling at natural wonders, a few of the IT people I shared the floor with would occasionally entertain ourselves by trying to identify which airline's planes from the multiple airports nearby were the ones rattling our windows at any given moment.

I came into the office a little earlier than normal that Tuesday morning, still a bit hung over from the previous week's annual sand, surf and suds vacation with friends, and logged into my computer. That's where I first saw the bulletin about a plane striking one of the Twin Towers.

Three flights up in the building's employee lounge, people lined the walls, mouths agape at the three TVs suspended from the ceiling around the room. Only the newscasters' shocked voices rattled the windows that morning.

At some point later in the day, I called my parents back in Connecticut. My mom answered and she was panicked -- well, she was always panicked about something but today it was greater than usual. People were going down to the shoreline in town to look across the Long Island Sound as smoke engulfed the skies over Manhattan, she said. Fighter jets were regularly buzzing over our backyard, the same yard in which I had won a million World Series games and Super Bowls in my youth.

"It's like the world is coming to an end," she said.

Nothing else from that day is too clear for me. I'm guessing I picked up my 1-year-old daughter early from daycare that afternoon. I probably held her extra close that night. I don't remember any of the conversations my wife and I had about what had happened other than we both admitted, for once, to being happy to be living in the bland suburbs of Dallas rather than in the bewildered, frightened and dangerous Northeast.

At one point, though, I do remember walking into our postage stamp of a backyard. Given the lack of trees in our newly minted neighborhood, it offered a panoramic view of nothing but the vast Texas sky. That sky, like the one downtown, was usually dotted dotted with planes coming and going from DFW Airport, Love Field, Red Bird and the several smaller airfields that populated the surrounding miles not filled with concrete strip malls, tract housing and cattle fields.

That day, though, I saw nothing. Just the occasional wisp of a cloud. The sky, for probably the first time in my life, seemed deathly still and silent for endless spaces of time. It was equally eerie and beautiful. 

Every September 11th since, I take a moment to look toward that sky -- no matter what town or city I'm in -- close my eyes and try to shut out the everyday sounds as I think about that strange sort of calm again.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels


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