September 11, 2001 – Loss and Lighting Candles

September 11, 2001 Part Two. Mary E. Latela

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When there’s a great loss, often the first reaction is numbness. You do not feel anything. It’s probably the little blessing in the early process of grieving, that the loss take a while to hit you. During that time when your heart is broken and your soul is wounded, you rest, you think, but you do not act.

I had to get some groceries, which meant a short trip to the market down the main street near my home. After gathering my milk, bread, butter, and eggs, I placed the cotton bag in the passenger seat, and continued by a back road over to the Connecticut River’s edge in Rocky Hill. This was one of my favorite spots to veg out after a long day, or to try to sort out complicated situations. I was not ready to plan or think.  I decided to stop in for a moment, even as my emotions were beginning to seep out. The river was calm. It was a warm September evening, and it seemed very quiet. Besides, I lived near the highway that served as a guidepost for planes coming in to land, but there was no air traffic for a while after September 11th had brought planes to our soil as killing machines.

As I drove back onto the main street, toward home, I saw clusters of folks standing around holding lit candles. I saw a group of office workers outside. I pulled into the driveway and joined them, apologizing that I had no candle. Not a problem – they handed me a candle, lit it, and we stood together, about seven or eight women looking out into the road. There were hundreds of people out there, in their little groups, holding lit candles.

Drivers (obviously not holding candles) slowed down and waved to the candle people. Some held up a hand with a victory symbol, or said out loud, “God Bless America.”

I slept deeply that night, as if preparing for the following day, when tears began to flow, and frustration built up, and loss seemed like a forever companion. All the everyday tasks needed attention. Neighbors stopped in the hallways to offer encouragement. People called to lean on me, and I’m sure, on others they trusted.

My sister in D.C. called about the gasmasks, which she had been trained to distribute in case of further emergency. My daughter had made a reservation to come the following weekend.

And the Class, Introduction to World Religions, needed updating and revision. That class-time became an oasis for each of us, as we began to tell our stories. When people tell you their story, you know that they will stay. Though the group was filled with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and seekers, with people very young and others in their later years – they connected. They helped one another, and we learned so very much during that semester about practicing kindness.

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