I used to walk to work in the days before September 11, 2001; to clear my head and stretch my legs before sitting in a cubicle for hours. I walked on that day, too. First thing, as always, I checked the sky, and this one was perfect. I headed out down my street singing a little bit under my breath. There’s a blue sky, way up yonder… there’s a blue sky over my head… there’s a blue sky way up yonder, that’s a cover for my bed.
I picked up random litter from my yard, said good morning to that one lady who walked her dog with the painted toenails. It was, by any account, a perfectly normal day. My only blip was that I was training people who were moving a massive book of business from Minot, North Dakota to Hartford, Connecticut and as I walked I reviewed which button to click when. Mindless, but it seemed crucial at the moment. It was not.
After opening the training, we took a coffee break. All of us drifted to the atrium of our building, a lovely place that housed 3000 Financial Services employees about 100 miles from New York City, where the world was ending. By the time I got to the bank of televisions they kept near the traders, the first tower had fallen. Many of our colleagues worked there and where I’d been going for several hours a week, twice a week, earlier that year. None of us cared about what button to click when, and couldn’t have remembered if we’d tried. We never went back to training that day, because we were sent back to cubicles in case we had to evacuate the building. No one worked though, we watched TV from somewhere in that beautiful building; the trading floor, the gym, the barbershop…until it was decided that we might also be a target and they sent us home.
We watched TV there, too.
There was no work for some time after that. People huddled in their homes and apartments, wondering if we were next. If we went out, we kind of stocked up on canned goods and bottled water, totally unprepared for a war on American soil or a lockdown, or an evacuation, or any break in our everyday lives. There was not a single plane in the blue sky way up yonder.
Then came the day when we went back to the lovely building, tentatively at first, until we were full steam ahead. People streamed in from every direction until we all stood at the Atrium again. Four floors of people waiting for our leader to tell us about who we’d lost at the World Trade Center, and who had survived. He stood in the center, our leader, and named the dead and the missing. When he finished, someone started singing God Bless America- really loud from somewhere on the first floor. Someone started it up everyone joined in. We were in tune, and even harmonized and all of the words that we’d been taught in grade school flooded our memories, and we sung our hearts out. We sung our hearts in.
Everything changed that day, for me. I was suddenly a citizen of the whole wide world – not just New England. And terrible, weird things could happen, even with blue skies over our heads. I wanted my Momma and a big pot of gumbo with French bread. I wanted to run although there was nowhere in particular to run to, because it could happen anywhere; New York, New England, a field, The Pentagon. Nowhere was safe enough, and I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
So we heard the news, and sang God Bless America and we meant it in ways we hadn’t before. On this day I’ll say it again,
God Bless America.
And when you bless us, sir, don’t just keep us from harm. Keep us from harming others. Help us to rely on our right minds when we make decisions about how to treat our brothers, how to respect ourselves, how to live.