[Redwoods, Armstrong State Reserve, June 2008.]
Today, the day of days. How the sun shines on this western city as if we have been granted some sort of miraculous blessing and the sky — swept clear of clouds — is that bluest blue of almost-autumn. I am drinking a delicious americano with cream and clattering my spoon around a bowl of granola and yogurt; San Francisco this morning would break your heart and put it back together again it’s so beautiful.
One Tuesday in September, eight years ago today on a morning very much like this one, I woke up early — before the alarm even. I hopped in the shower and felt the cool breeze through the window: fall, in Washington DC, had come if only for that morning. I heard the phone ring but didn’t answer it (much later, I would pick up the message from my grandfather who had called from Jersey City just after 9 a.m.)
It was crisp and sunny — a peach of a day, an excuse in and of itself for sloughing off work and sitting outside, but I packed up my lunch and went to wait for the bus anyhow. A nice woman gave me her transfer and so I settled in with my free ride and a book and thought about my sweet little new apartment, the change of seasons, the sun. The bus went by the the White House and I looked up to see people standing on the sidewalks, heard a woman shouting something about planes crashing, and everything was changed utterly and forever.
Eight years ago on September 11, 2001 the world collapsed and turned in on itself and nothing has been the same since. Can it really be eight years
? It’s hard to fathom sometimes — that life still bowls on at its usual pace and the sun rises and sets in its regular rhythm is both impossible and comforting.
Then, I lived in another city and lived another life. That bright Tuesday I came in to work to find the newsroom a frenzy of activity, the television shining like a beacon with its terrible images. Cameramen were rushing about and the phones were screaming; I went into the bathroom and locked myself in for a few moments, clasping my hands tight to stop their shaking. All day I couldn’t eat, could barely choke down the awful coffee we used to drink there. My friend walked with me through the deserted Washington downtown, miles up to Adams Morgan to another friend’s house where we made Annie’s macaroni and cheese, drank Sierra Nevada, and talked and talked, trying to make sense out of the nonsensical. Then I went home and cried as though there was no possible end to the tears. It was such a blank, awful night — the kind where, when you wake up the next morning, it feels like a terrible dream until you remember.
At first, time dragged. I marked every month. Each day was to be gotten-through. We walked around in a daze. Most meals I ate with my friends, when I could — simple things of pastas and roasted vegetables with green salad from the farmers market with lots of wine and talking — always talking — to try to sort out what had happened. What was still happening. We stayed up late and wondered and wished and made pots of soup. Fall turned into winter turned into spring turned into summer and then it was a whole year since and somehow we were still there, if a bit battered and heartsore.
Now, eight years on, the after-effects of that September linger but the pain has eased just the smallest bit. Life keeps going even in the face of such loss and anguish — and I am more grateful than I can ever express that it does. Perhaps this is the most fitting memorial to all we lost: that we can grab up the pieces and go on, that we can laugh at the silly sketches on SNL, that we can breathe deeply again, that we can fall in love, that the ocean crashes and burns along the jagged coast, that we wake in the morning with the ordinary-morning-feeling rather than filled with worry and dread — that life has returned to a sense of ‘normalcy.’ Back then I never, honestly, thought that it could.
Maybe the truest way to live in a world such as this one is to create hope every day and to hold on to love in all kinds of ways. It is not so difficult, really, only it can take some time — and how far we have come since eight, or even five, years ago. I believe fiercely there is beauty everywhere, including in the littlest of the little things — a perfect plum, a good run, a walk at the coast with an old friend, washing dishes with company, phone calls from a beloved sibling, a delicious heirloom tomato sauce — and true love and promise. The great gift I have been given is that I have learned to appreciate every day — even if painful, especially when joyous — for what it is: truth, freedom, the hope of peace. I know we are so very lucky be here at all.
Today, I am remembering. I am remembering life is so sweet and precious and must never be taken for granted. I want to scrape my plate clean, to lick up the last bits, to savor every drop, to find grace in each moment.
I promise I will always try.
Today is also a day for eating simple, nourishing things like roasted-vegetable soup and good bread or slow-roasted tomatoes with red onion turned into sauce to be draped over pasta. It’s simple, sweet, and wholly satisfying; if you have a bit of pesto in the fridge add it to your dinner, too. I made these in about an hour but if you have more time — and need the delicious smells of roasting vegetables to linger longer — turn the oven to 200 F and put in the pan for at least 2-3 hours.
Roasted Tomato Sauce, for quiet days
10 large roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise or 5 heirloom tomatoes, quartered, or a mix
1 red onion, coarsely chopped or sliced
oregano or basil
1 bay leaf
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange tomatoes and onion in a baking dish and douse well with olive oil and salt. Roast until tomatoes are tender and a little shriveled around the edges, stirring occasionally, about an hour.
2. In a pot, sautee the onion with garlic if you like, and add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup water and the bay leaf. Cook down over low heat until sauce is thick and the tomatoes and onion are melting, about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the oregano or basil. Remove bay leaf.
3. Serve very hot over fettucine or spaghetti, making sure to well-coat the pasta with the sauce, with lots of parmesan.