(I wrote this column in Bay Weekly, the newspaper I co-founded, on the morning after 9/11.)
Like all else each of us will do in the future stretching before us into infinity, this paper comes to you under the long shadow of the World Trade Center towers. Like you, we entered September 11, 2001, enchanted by Chesapeake Country’s autumnal sweetness, pleasantly preoccupied with vacations enjoyed and warm weekends to come, with feasts and fests, with births and babies, with the promise of the new school year, the contest of Annapolis’ mayoral primary, the treats coming with a new season of community theater. Before the making of Vol. IX, No. 37 of Bay Weekly could drive those preoccupations from our minds, we were hearing the numbing news. Like you, we listened to a story whose tension was wrought as artfully to highwire the nerves as the fiction of Edgar Allen Poe, rising, ever rising, from bad to worse: The unimaginable news of a jet plane hitting a tower of the World Trade Center … inconceivably duplicated by a second strike — captured live on television and now burned into the memories of all the world … bodies flung from 100 stories high … a third hit, this time so close to home in the Pentagon … the fall of the first Trade tower in a mushroom cloud of concrete dust … followed, as if we had not seen it well enough, by the collapse of the second … and then, filling us now and forever with wild surmise, the crash of a fourth hijacked jetliner into the Pennsylvania countryside … It will take a laureate poet to find words for all that was done and felt and seen. Then the nerve-wringing drama of the news settled into the heart as we felt its human cost. Like yours, our hearts cracked with each new image and imagining. Like yours, the toll on the firefighters — more than half of the original force of 400 dead — and police broke our hearts. Like you, we wept for the lost heroes who had come not by chance but by choice to explosive, billowing death. Like you, we blessed the doctors and nurses, the stretcher-bearers and the techs who laid their hands on the broken bodies. Like you, we felt helpless and benumbed. In Chesapeake Country, the morning of September 12, 2001, dawned no less beautifully, though like you, we woke to a hangover of grief and the quick certainty that this was not a dream. An old moon climbed the blue sky alone. For the first time in many a lifetime, no airplanes shared that sky. Not a boat traced its way across the Bay. For a quiet moment, we savored the peace of isolation. Then we remembered that, for good and ill, isolation is an illusion. Our world changed yesterday. Like you, we’ll be a long time plumbing the depths of this change.