A Reflection on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

Never Alone on Scorched Earth

Sarah Condon / 9.10.21

There is a land of love that I used to visit. It was lush and light. Full of sweet memories and conversations with both of my parents. I would show up there almost daily. In phone calls, text messages, long emails, and as many visits as we could manage. We could talk for hours.

I would recall to my mother how, as an adult, I have discovered I know almost no music from the 1980s. In my childhood she played Motown exclusively. We would laugh together remembering dancing in the dusty living room light to Aretha Franklin or the Temptations. And my Dad’s stories from childhood were always astonishing to me. One I would have him tell all the time happened at his father’s airport. It was kind of a hangout for local men and this odd pair of elderly gentlemen would meet weekly there to play chess, whisper quietly in German, and weep. One had been a member of the Nazi youth and the other was from a Jewish family who left Germany right before the Holocaust. I mean, who else has stories like that?

In this land there was so much wonder and grace. It was filled with culture and a longing to understand one another.

Mom and Dad died in a car accident last December. So now when I have thoughts of this land, which happens all day long, the environment has changed. The plants there have withered, the water has dried up, and the light has dimmed. It feels like scorched earth. My parents and their beauty are gone and I feel alone in it.

The first time the news took my breath away was when the Surfside condominium building in Miami collapsed this summer. I remember seeing a woman being interviewed who is my age. She was waiting to hear news about her mother. They showed photos of her mother at her wedding and she spoke about what a wonderfully helpful grandmother she had been. I had the strange impulse to get in my car and drive to the site of the accident. I wanted to wrap people up in blankets and tell them that they were about to lose their own lands of love and devotion. And that it would be the worst thing. I would not tell them that it would be okay. Mostly because that is a ridiculous thing to say.

You will be okay in the way that scorched earth is okay. You will feel parched when you long to feel love. You will want the waters to flow back into the places where rivers of devotion had once been. You will only have meager tears to offer. You will feel alone because in so many ways you are.

I was a freshman at a very small liberal arts college on September 11th, 2001. Like most people, I have a few distinct memories. The dean gathered us all in an auditorium to mumble some helpful words. A guy stood up and told everyone that he “knew this was going to happen and is getting the space ship ready.” And he was serious.

I only knew I wanted to go back to my parents, to the land that loved me.

I view the whole event so differently now. I do not see the politics and I cannot buy into the resilient patriotism that came out of the disaster. I just see the people. I see the mothers who dropped their children off at daycare on the way to work. I wonder what they packed their little ones for lunch. Were there cheese sticks and apple slices? Is this the last meal they made for their babies? I wonder about the young people, so many young people, who were thrilled to get a big job in New York City. Their parents must have been so proud of them. Were their childhood rooms still intact? Are they still?

And so when another massive tragedy happens or when an occasion as big as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 comes to pass, I wonder about how many of us live in the land of scorched earth.

When people say that God does not give us more than we can handle, I just assume that they have not met God. I am not handling anything. I am weeping, breathing, praying, walking, and missing them. God sits on the scorched earth with me and rubs my head. God tells me to throw all of my parents’ things into a plastic bin with a note that says, “If I die before I go through this, just throw it away.”

Only God seems to understand the specificity and magnitude of a sudden loss. Only God sits with me in the dirt of my scorched earth.