Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Marble Machine, my 911 account for my boys

Our neighbor, Sara, called and said, "Turn on the TV! Something just happened in New York." When I turned it on the first plane had already crashed. Watching, I was in a kind of horrified stupor trying to sort out what had just happened. I kept thinking about the tourists that must have been in the building because I can remember riding the elevator up near the top of one of the towers to see the view with my family when I was a kid.

Wayne, my husband, came into the room and Josh, my son, was there. The news reporters were talking rapidly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the second plane hit! It was absolutely unreal. Josh said, "Wow!" not understanding what he had seen because he was only 3. Later he asked his dad if anyone might have been hurt in the plane. Wayne answered vaguely, "That was possible."

For most of my lifetime we in the USA had lived in a time of peace so, I was having trouble interpreting what was happening. Clearly we were under attack, but by whom? Why? The attack was not in the middle of a war or a conflict or even a remarkable spat. It was more like a sucker punch out of nowhere.

Wayne and I were about to whisk Josh out the door to take him to daycare. So, we jumped in the car. When we arrived, no one at the daycare had heard the news yet. I didn't want to voice out loud the horrible thing that had just happened. I just said, "You need to turn on the news, right now."

Wayne and I hurried home again to watch more news. The Pentagon had been hit while we were out. That brought the tragedy very close to our home because we lived within the beltway. We didn't know until later, but some of the kids at our local school lost a parent that day. Then flight 93 went down in PA. Then the towers actually collapsed! I really hadn't expect them to fall. I don't think that many people expected that. All that day I was kind of numbly glued to the TV. After picking Josh up from daycare at lunch time, I dutifully cared for him, distracting him with toys then returned to the TV for more news.

That night was eerily quiet. We stayed home and no one on our street went anywhere. The only sound we heard was a regular circling of military Jets around the perimeter of the capitol because all of the other flights in the country had been cancelled. Everyone was afraid because we didn't know much about who attacked us or if they had plans for more attacks. Each time the jets passed over head, I felt a little bit of comfort.

The next day, I was still in shock and constantly watching for every bit of news. Most of America was watching, but there was this terrible feeling of uselessness. Most people couldn't really help, although we all wanted to do something. A lot of people prayed and lit candles.

By evening, I was beginning to realize that my obsession with the news was becoming unhealthy for me and for Josh. I wasn't playing with him anymore. I turned off the TV and started to create something. I had wood and glue and bells. Over the next couple of days the creation took form and Wayne helped me. Two tall towers of wood connected by ramps emerged. The 'escape' ramps carried marbles to the bells that tolled for those who had passed. An American flag was at the top and a cup was at the bottom to catch the fallen. And there were three churning 'wheels of life' spinning in primary colors as each marble passed through. The ramps were made so that the marbles would precariously make a drop from one ramp to the next. Sometimes they wouldn't make it and they would fall off the end of the ramp and crash on the floor.

When it was finished Josh often played with that marble machine and so did his brother, Sean, a few years later, but until now I never told them why I made it. It was my memorial.

I wish that I could give my boys that time before we talked about terrorists every day. It is sad for me to know that they cannot remember a time when our country was at peace.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

-John Donne


  1. thank you for sharing your very personal memory of that day. i think in a way we are all still in a bit of shock. i try my best to turn the sorrow and sometimes anger that i feel, into love. so much love has come out of this.
    i love that you made that memorial.

  2. Beautiful and heartfelt post, Butternut. I, too, ws glued to the TV for most of the next 3 days. About 15 minutes after the first plane hit, I sped to Megan's school to pick her up. I knew we were under attack, I was totally freaked out.

    On the way home, she asked why I'd picked her up. She was in 6th grade, but I didn't mince words. "The U.S. has been attacked."

    Since then, her generation hasn't known a world without a war waging somewhere, over this event.

  3. It hardly seems like ten years have passed. The memories are still so fresh. I don't think we felt the power of the impact here in the west like the east coast did. But we felt the eerie quiet and the empty skies and the fear of loved ones stranded without a way home. We lost a LOT that day. Your choice of poetry was perfect.