"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
~ MacBeth, Act IV, Scene I
In the late September days of 2001, my most vivid memory is of driving south through Indiana cornfields, blue sky crisscrossed with jetstreams.
We had an uneasy calm as we made our way, the same misplaced serenity we found in the days of early September.
Something was stirring then, we just didn't know what.
That same calm comes before a storm, an uncertain nothingness, the kind that unsettles animals and drives them into basements long before humans awake in tornado country, where the air goes still before a curtain of black descends.
On the morning of September 11th, we found ourselves in Ephesus, Turkey, stuffing prayers into a wall. I recalled doing the same some years earlier at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where the prayers came without effort. "Please bless Aunt Hazel, please bless so-and-so with this-and-that. . ." That morning in Ephesus in the dead calm before the events an ocean away the words did not come as easily. I scribbled a prayer for the whole world on a scrap of paper and shoved it into a crack of the wall, not knowing what was soon to follow.
I sat in my grandfather's yard in rural Utah one late summer and pondered a forboding sky. "If I was in Wisconsin, I'd say that was a tornado coming." Uncle John scratched his chin and looked thoughtfully at swirls in the heavens past the Wasatch. "Not likely here," he said.
I sat on the edge of a bed in late June 2004 gripping my husband's hand, holding back tears, trying to steel myself after a stealth diagnosis. I knew pancreatic cancer was ruthless, and that maybe we had six months. Finding life going forward in the face of a death sentence would be daunting. There were people to tell, things to do, and nothing, not even our expectations, the course of the illness, even the existence of the illness or our lives, would be the same.
Women were shopping for groceries on the morning of September 11th when they heard the news. I was in the stateroom of a cruise ship in port in Kusadasi when I watched it live on CNN, disbelieving. We didn't see it coming. Did we feel it, sense it in our quiet bones? When groceries dropped to the floor, buildings to the ground did we search backward for signs, or move forward through survival?
As Irene gathered strength in the Atlantic, people stood on the sand, watched and waited, from Florida to New England, wondering, some evacuating, some shaking their heads, none really quite certain if they were overprepared and underreacting. Some frolicked in the Jersey surf. Old timers laughed.
The storms did come, to Utah, to my home, to the world I quickly scribbled a prayer for that September morning. Fate is a scorned mistress and sometimes comes back howling, having granted reprieve. Eggs drop. Women cry. The earth swims and cracks and swirls and smoulders, and mourns.
We don't see it coming, a spouse's stroke, a child's illness, a car accident, violent weather, an act of unspeakable horror. We feel the calm. We laugh at weathermen, scorn politicians, decry journalists, rattle chains at the universe.
We stand on the sand with our backs to the land. And wait.
Still, my most vivid memory of the days of late September 2001 are of jetstreams. Jetstreams in a blue sky. Indiana. And cornfields.
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
~ from "Dover Beach," by Matthew Arnold
I have written previously on our personal encounter with September 11, 2001, and the days following, here: Incognito in Istanbul