One of the most haunting sounds in all the world is silence.
Today, America pauses once again to reflect and remember the tragedy that has wrapped us all in smoke and ashes. And every year, as we think about this day, I think about a group of men and women we often don't think about, but for whom this day is steeped in its silence.
I think about the air traffic controllers. Because when I first heard about the attacks in New York, this is where my thoughts went. My dad was an air traffic controller. I spent so many mid-shifts (overnights) with him at the control center. I knew the guys at the Midwest Regional Center well, and I couldn't help but think about whose radar these planes might have been on at that moment.
I couldn't help but think about what it must be like, having talked to pilots myself and watched planes come in and go out on radar for so many years (don't tell the FAA), to have this plane on your radar, just this little blip, and to be talking with the pilot in the way that only pilots and controllers talk to one another. And then, for there to be...silence.
To be watching this plane keep flying, but to have nothing from the cockpit. To one minute be talking with the pilot and the next, to have no idea what was happening to him. To be thinking this was nothing more than routine flight chatter only to realize all of a sudden, it was nothing but routine.
Thinking about this silence, I think about the other silence. I think about husbands who were talking to their wives when those planes hit and phone lines dropped. I think about children who went off to school and came home to empty silence, never to hear another bedtime story. Never to hear another Happy Birthday or another I love you. Never to hear the voice of their mother or their father again.
I think about small town in Pennsylvania, normally quiet, that erupted in noise in the blink of an eye, but still would have been called just a quiet little town. I think about noise in a remote field, incredible noise that still fell silent to most of the world.
And the world...
I think about the silence that enveloped our world on that morning. Outside of New York City and Washington, D.C., where the noise, I can only imagine, must have been deafening, it was the silence that was deafening. Where there was no smoke, no fire, no dust or ashes, where we couldn't hear the screams and the sobs and the sounds of tragedy, there was silence. I remember being in one of the mass gatherings in my high school, students ushered into large rooms with televisions so that we could be together and watch the unfolding story. We were teenagers, so it probably wasn't quiet, but I remember the quiet. On this day, I always remember the quiet.
Because it's like...it's like when those planes hit, it took our collective breath away. We didn't know what to say any more. We didn't know who we were. We didn't know how we were supposed to move forward, how we were supposed to find ourselves again. We didn't know...anything. And for the briefest of time, the world fell silent as we tried to gather ourselves and ask that one haunting question.
We forgot, in the blink of an eye, how to tell our story. For a moment, we lost ourselves. Until we figured out how to break the silence, we didn't know who we were any more.
Of course, when we started to speak again, we found ourselves. We spoke of heroism and of sacrifice. We spoke of loss and of love. We spoke of God. We spoke of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters, best friends, neighbors, girls we once went to school with, guys we had crushes on. In the aftermath of disaster, while the dust was still settling, we sought after our stories because we knew...we knew in the silence that we had to get them back.
So when I think about this day every year, I think about the first silence that fell. Because I know those guys. But I think, too, about the silence that spun out of that as one by one, the world fell silent. As one by one, we forgot, in that painful moment, how to tell our story. As one by one, we fell victim to the most haunting sounds in all the world...
Today, as we pause to remember, embrace the silence. For a moment, be still and remember what it was like to have our collective breath taken away. But then...talk about heroism and sacrifice. Talk about loss and love. Talk about mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters, best friends, neighbors, girls you once went to school with, guys you had crushes on. Talk about God. Talk about something. Tell a story. Tell your story. Tell our story.
Lest we ever forget.