Thoughts on Tragedy from a D.C. Resident

On a Tuesday, in the 10th grade, I sat twiddling my pencil in home room.  I had Mr. H., the geology teacher, who was notoriously known for taking roll call for the first two minutes and then leaving us to our own devices.  Twiddling a pencil seemed appropriate for an early September day.

“Do you think _____ will ask me to homecoming?” the chatty blond-haired girl, with the large chest, asked her friend at the table in front of me.

“If he’s smart,”  her twig-bodied friend blurted out in between cracks of “illegal” bubble gum pops.

I eavesdropped and flipped through the pages of my trigonometry book, with my left hand, as I glanced over my schedule for the semester.  I made a mental note to check in with the guidance counselor later that afternoon; AP European History needed to be nixed.

I let out a big sigh of relief, as the bell finally rang, and I exited out into the hallway.  I found my ‘boyfriend’ standing at the intersecting two halls.  That’s weird, I thought; he isn’t usually on the same floor at this time.  T. sauntered over, in my direction, and whispered in my ear, “something’s happened.”

“What do you mean something’s happened?” I quickly responded.

“Mrs. L. told us in home room.  Something’s happened in NY.  She turned the TV on.  Didn’t you see it?” he asked.

“No; I didn’t see it!  Mr H. never turns the TV on!” my sentence trailed off as I peered back towards Mr. H’s closed classroom door.  The windows on either side allowed me to see him move from setting the phone down to reaching for the remote control.  An image of smoke billowing from the twin towers flickered on the screen.

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**

Experiencing 9/11 in Ohio was different from larger metropolitan areas.  I remember sitting on the tennis court, during practice later that day, and listening to the eerie silence of a plane-less sky.  I remember eating dinner with my family in front of the TV, and knowing that this was a moment in history, but not truly understanding what that meant.  I remember watching news coverage alone in my room later that evening; tears streaming down my face as I watched the firefighters clear the wreckage.

I remember feeling so sad and united to other Americans in the days following those acts of terrorism, but also feeling so removed.  It was later reported that Flight 93 briefly flew over Cleveland before crashing down in Pennsylvania.  This was the closest my home city came to experiencing real fear in the wake of 9/11.  In a matter of weeks, things were close to almost normal.

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**

It wasn’t until I moved to the nation’s capital several years later that I truly understood what it was like to live with a constant fear of terrorism.  I feel it as I walk among my fellow D.C.-ers.  I know it when I hold my breath a little longer as the metro train stops at the Pentagon station.  I hear it when people speak of never flying on September 11th.

On 9/11, in the district, we sip our coffees a little longer in the morning.  We hug our loved ones a little tighter before we leave the house.  We do these things because the fear here is real.

In lieu of what happened, in this city, less than 24 hours ago, I can’t help but think how this adds another fear to our list; the simple act of going to work.  I am deeply pained for the families of the victims, of course. There are not enough words or emotions to explain how saddened I am for their loss and what they must be going through now.  But, I’m also upset for their coworkers, the people working near-by, those of us who panicked as we scrolled through our mental log of friends who work for the Navy.  Were they at the Navy Yard location?  And then, that looming thought of it being the Navy today, but tomorrow – is it the Pentagon, the Senate, my office building in Tyson’s Corner, VA?

When I was younger, I learned that America is the land of the free and home of the brave.  I learned that people died fighting so that our country’s patrons can experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But, as I say my prayers before work in the morning, as I anticipate feelings of visiting the Navy Yard metro stop in the future, as I squeeze my loved ones a little tighter tonight…

I wonder when the freedom from fear will become real.

Day 8: I Need Big City Dreams and Small Town USA

I think it was when I first step foot on a New York City sidewalk that I fell in love with the city.  Not THE city necessarily, but city life.  The bright lights, the greasy pizza, the opportunities, the chatter.  Cities are perfect for introverts because you can hide.  I wanted to live somewhere where everybody didn’t know my name.

“When you don’t seem to run on either side of the fence.  People act like you don’t make sense.  These big town dreams that I’ve been chasing.  Will never come true if I wind up staying.” ~Jason Aldean

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When I started telling people in high school that I wanted to go to college in a city, I started getting some strange looks.  You know, those looks… the one’s where people think that you want to leave because you are ‘too good for them.’  They think that you don’t join in on their love for the local town, its familiarity, the feeling of being small.

However, I couldn’t have felt more differently about my decision.

“I’m like that AM station.  That never comes in right.  ‘Til you pass the city limit sign.  That’s the only time it all gets clear.” ~Jason Aldean

It was never that I “felt too good.”  It was that I just couldn’t ignore an unyielding pull towards the city life.  It was as-if something within me couldn’t be released without that fast-paced rush, the ability to get a little lost.

“Give me a Sunday morning that’s full of grace.  A simple life and I’ll be okay here in small town USA.”  ~Justin Moore

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But, of course with all things unfamiliar, I still feel that pull back to something that I know.  Now, amidst the rush of traffic and the strange street signs, I often times find myself needing the smaller space that I left.

In a world full of changing paces, it’s not surprising that one of my weaknesses is finding a balance between my love for big city dreams and the need to quiet my heart in a small town.  The question is, how can I feed my appetite for both?

Don’t you dare go runnin’ down
My little town where I grew up
And I won’t cuss your city lights
If you ain’t ever took a ride around
And cruised right through the heart of my town
Anything you’d say would be a lie
We may live our lives a little slower
But that don’t mean I wouldn’t be proud to show ya
Where I come from. ~Montgomery Gentry
 

*For the month of October, I’m participating in a 31 Days series with numerous other writers.  To read my entire series, please view this page.

**To look your best in big cities and small towns, check out Shabby Apple; Crossroads of the Heart latest affiliate program.

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