September 8, 2011

Kate Whouley, author of the just-published “Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia” (a wonderful book–see my review in the Enterprise on Friday, September 9), has written remembrance on the September 11 terrorist attacks, a gentle statement on the devastating impact of the attacks and the small, but important ways that people cope: Eating Cake on 9/11 (published in Obit, an online magazine about Life, Death, and Transition).

Kate had planned a business trip to New York on September 11, 2001, but changed her plans at the last minute. She has reserved the evening for a cook-out and cake to celebrate her mother’s 67th birthday, but was shaken by the events of the day and wanted to cancel the festivities.

“Should we still have the cook-out tonight?” I asked my mother when I called to report Tina [Kate’s friend–an airline stewardess based in Boston] was fine—or at least on the ground.
I hoped she’d postpone.  In the face of so much loss, it felt wrong to fire up the grill and keep on living. Maybe by the weekend, I thought, we won’t feel so numb, so sad. But my mother did not favor a change of plans.

“This is not a time,” she said, “for us to sit in our separate houses.”

Her mother, even then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, couldn’t have phrased it better. The nation came together after 9/11 in mutual shock and grief. And patriotism, as flags waved from every post.

Many lives were devastated on 9/11, and almost everyone has a 9/11 story. For me, it is also a story of being with others. In 2001, I worked, as I do now, as a freelance editorial consultant, primarily writing indexes for books and websites. On September 11, I had an index due for a publisher in Manhattan. I was in the midst of an e-mail conversation with the editor when I heard on the radio (WUMB–folk music, only rarely interrupted by news) that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a small plane, tragically off course, but turned on the television to see what had happened.

I immediately became physically sick; I watched the events unfold on the television from the door of the bathroom for a time, unable to move. Eventually I got back to the computer, where I learned that the editor had watched the plane from her window and saw the terrifying impact, the flames, the smoke, stunned by the unreality of it all.

Somehow I finished the project I was doing for her, but I must admit I had a sense of hopelessness about it. It seemed to be the end of the world.

It was a Tuesday, and on Tuesday evenings I had a standing rehearsal with our trio: 2 flutes and a cello. We were playing Haydn’s London Trios. I played first flute, Paul played second flute, and Eric played cello. I loved these trios, still love them. They are easy, as chamber music goes, but Paul and I were having problems staying together. Eric, a much better cellist than we were flutists, was patient and helpful. He played with a strong, rich certainty, and I always had the feeling I was playing amid a wonderful “cello forest” of sound.  (At the time I had just recently started cello lessons myself, and now I play the cello on these trios with another group of musicians.)

I wondered whether we should still meet, given the horrors of the day. I knew I wanted to play, but wondered if it was appropriate to do so. Neither Paul nor Eric called or e-mailed to cancel, and I did not contact either one of them, fearful that one would cancel. I went to rehearsal. Both were there. I don’t remember if we talked much about the attacks, but I do know it felt good to play the music, even imperfectly, even just for ourselves.

This year, I plan to go to a concert–the Boston String Quartet is playing at the Cape Cod Museum of Art on Sunday, September 11, at 4 PM, and it sounds like it might be just the thing for me. The Boston String Quartet will present their program, WorldSong, described as “fresh and original blend of music from throughout the world….a mix of music including Zydeco, Taiwanse folk, American fiddle, Bulgarian, gospel, salsa, and more. (See link below for their performance of “Winter in Buenos Aires from Piazzola’s “Four Seasons.]

It is a sad anniversary, but there is much to be gained in the coming together.

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