It was one of those beautiful, late summer days when I was healthy and happy. We were living in North Muskegon, on Muskegon Lake, at the bottom of a hill. I didn’t particularly enjoy living at the bottom of the hill because this narrow strip of land was only a couple blocks long and wide. Everything in the world except Muskegon Lake existed-on the top of the hill. And it was pretty steep to get to the top.
|My favorite color combination…|
I’d been walking every day for about 3 years. Meaning if I wanted to walk farther than 2 blocks, I had to trek to the top of the hill. After 3 years it was no big deal, but those first 6 months took everything I had just to huff and puff my way to the top of that little hill. What made this sweat inducing jaunt worthwhile wasn’t really at the top of the hill either. It was literally the ‘hiking to the top’ part. North Muskegon has more that their fair share of trees, like the rest of our forest infused state. The tree trimming code in Michigan states as follows: don’t trim anything-ever. Not even a twig. Let nature (wind gusts of more than 50 mph) do it for you. Free. I’m from Iowa and expect to be able to look west and see straight through South Dakota. We have near forest conditions everywhere I look, except when I’m at Lake Michigan.
Except, in the instance of this dang hill in North Muskegon. There were no sidewalks below the hill, so walking up or down is done on the road. Many mornings as you’re walking up, just when the altitude makes you short of breath (kidding, that was caused by rolls of fat, not altitude), this was the most picturesque scene. My breath literally caught every morning and not because of my slow/slug/slothness. The top of the hill was one huge wall of very dense green tree foliage. Varying shades of green, mostly kelly. Above this dense green wall of trees was the most vivid blue sky. Chicago Cubs Blue. Usually cloud free until noon. There’s always a time limit on sunshine in Michigan. One of the biggest differences between Michigan and Iowa. Iowa has abundant sunshine-winter and summer. Most days are split evenly between baby blue or sullen gray skies, but with just enough gorgeous ones like the Cubs blue sky to keep you walking up the hill everyday.
|God bless America. We will never forget…|
I had my cell phone, but it was still more of a novelty and I hadn’t gone through the process of having it permanently attached to my body like a tattoo just yet. That would come soon enough when Mom and Dad started their decline, and an emergency phone call was no longer a rare occurrence. I was in my own little world. Listening to some funky music compilation from Joshua, my tech wizard kid. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Beatles, CCR, Pointer Sisters, but I had walked to the same music for 3 years! He changed all that for me.
My plan that beautiful day was to put on my Parish Visitor hat, so I was trudging up the hill by 7 and home again by 8:30. Cool down, eat some toast, shower and be on my way. The older folks I visited don’t get moving too early in the day, thus I was in no rush. Done with my walk, but still appreciating the hill scene with those stunning contrasting colors. I felt really good.
|The skyline before…|
I’ve never been one to watch TV, especially during the day, so I was just ready to head upstairs when Hubs called me from work. It was right before 9. “Turn on the TV, a plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers. How could they get so far off course?” I sat down at the kitchen table, clicked on the news and watched, horrified as the second plane crashed. Dumbfounded, it just seemed surreal. Mesmerized, I wanted to stop watching before I got sick, but was unable to pull my eyes from the TV. Or stop crying. OK, there’s definitely a loss of life through a few floors, but I honestly felt this was as bad as it was gonna get. Then John called back. “I think the whole building might come down!” I couldn’t come to terms with that. “I don’t think so, the damage looks to be on a few floors.” “Denise, do you know how hot jet fuel burns? It’s gonna melt the steel holding that building up.” The engineer was right.
This still was not the worst. The news started covering the Pentagon crash, then the Pennsylvania crash. Thousands of people running away from the Towers, (as the first responders still continued to run into the buildings) covered with blood, ash in the smoke filled streets. But I will never forget watching in horror as people on the top floors-started jumping. Quite honestly, I could not believe what I was seeing. My mind simply couldn’t comprehend or refuse to accept this was their decision. At first I thought, why are they throwing stuff out the window? Just head down the stairs, you’re wasting valuable time. But they knew they weren’t going to make it out. As a psychologist would explain a few hours later, “this was the last decision these people could make on their own terms. Would you rather have fire and smoke consume you, or come to terms with your own impending death and decide how to end your life?” What an awful tragedy for America. Unbelievable how much some people, cultures, and religions hate us. I always thought we were the good guys and the world loved us. We help everyone. Naive Neese. More countries hate us than love us. Sad.
|There are no words…|
Two things stand out in the days that followed. First thing happened the very next day, Wednesday the 12th. All the local churches were opening their doors for anyone to pray. For the victims, our country. Seeking solace through God. I drove to the closest church, got out of the car the same time as the pastor. I said something about needing some quiet time with God because I couldn’t understand or accept. He said, “this is our fault. America asked for this because we didn’t side with Palestine.” To me, this was as unbelievable as the folks I watched jump to their death the day before. And so began my disdain for organized religion.
Second thing happened a few days later. Muskegon had just built a beautiful mall about 10 miles away. I thought I was ready. Hopped on 31 south, got off on the exit and down a couple blocks to the stoplight. There was a Perkins Restaurant at the stoplight across from the mall. In Perkins parking lot was a humongous American flag, rippling in the breeze. Still flying at half mast. I couldn’t pull my eyes from that beautiful flag, commemorating all those lives lost. And here I was, trying to get on with my life. Pulled into the parking lot sobbing, turned around and drove home. Filled with guilt for wanting my regular life back when I hadn’t lost anything but my insensitive naiveté. No, I was not ready. I’ll never forget…
|We all remember…|