Reflections of September 11 and What I Learned from the Dust

This September 11 dawned much like that September 11, greeting me with a sun-filled, early- autumn, blue Connecticut sky. Crisp air, a good day for apple picking.

Prior to that September 11, I would have expected tragedy to strike on a gloomy day, with heavily-laden clouds, as some distant radio droned out fearsome cello notes. But, like so many of us who were to puzzle, “But it was such a gorgeous day,” my expectations were about to change.

It was a work-at-home day for me, one infused with the glorious freedom and possibilities that come from those fresh back-to-school days. My world felt expansive, charged. I sat at my piano, hot coffee at the ready, fingers toddling over the keys, trying to master something new, when my phone rang. It was a friend. “Turn on the TV, some idiot just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”

I did, and so they had. But it wasn’t some small plane clunking the side of the tower scenario I’d conjured; this was much, much more. Horribly, tragically more. And so I watched the real time horror of the second jet coming in behind ABC newscasters struggling for the right words, the correct information, something, anything to make sense of what they were seeing.

We saw it before the newscasters, as they mused over the thousands of people who’d be in the towers at 8:30 in the morning. The first tower collapsed behind them. I wanted to jump from my chair and cry, “Look behind you!,” but for them it was just green screen, and what they knew took a painful few beats more to catch up to what we knew.

I could hear Obi-Wan on the fate of Dantooine: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” Those lines replayed in my mind in the hours and days and weeks that followed.

Everything changed that morning. Safety we’d always taken for granted felt lost. I’d stand in my yard watching jets fly overhead, fearing them, wishing them all safe passage to their destinations. Each was no longer background noise, nor a vessel for vacationers speeding someplace wonderful, but rather a potential missile, a tool of destruction.

And the reminder continued to seep into my home just across the Sound from New York. Suddenly it was my daily ritual to wipe off the thick, gray dust clinging to my TV screen. I’d stare at the paper towel, horrified by what I knew I was holding. Remnants of monuments we’d never thought would fall. Did I hold fragments of a report that should have been sent? Photos that sat on a desk? A fireman’s boot? A designer shoe? All of it seemed so insignificant when measured against the hugs and kisses that stopped that day.

As a nation we went through it all, horror, determination, fear, grief, love, hate. And I wonder: What have we gained? Tragedy has no role if not to make us better, teach us to love more. Its job is not to assign us to crouching in the shadows fearing the other. Rather its role is to make us better, braver, more infused with a conviction that life is now. To remind us we may never know who holds the hand that can pull us through the fire and ash, and that that knowledge may surprise us.

When The Bad Thing dropped out of the sky on September 11, it brought the instinct to hide, become smaller. But it also carried an undeniable lesson that every moment we hold is precious. Each opportunity to express love is essential, and the things we cling to as permanent are not. Shedding the illusion of permanence can be terrifying. It can also be remarkably, beautifully freeing.

On this somber anniversary, I wish each of us a renewed determination to step out of those places where fear sends us hiding, to wake up and embrace the very pieces of our lives we mourned losing the day the Towers fell. If we do that, life triumphs and love wins. And love should always win.

Beth Nichols is a self-proclaimed word geek. She’s also a freelance writer, editor and marketing strategist. Please visit to learn more.