Silent Echoes

Reflections in the 9/11 Memorial fountain

In the days that surround September 11th each year, I think back to all of the events leading up to that horrible morning and all of the events that followed. For those of us who were close to these events, we will forever feel as though there is an empty seat at the table when we gather to reminisce. It took a long time for most of us to put things in perspective and to put to rest the unsettling and unproductive selfish thoughts of “why wasn’t it me?” A certain sense of jovial callousness and gallows humor are excellent coping mechanisms…But still there are echoes of those moments in our reflections…voices of friends lost, images of detached horror, perpetual columns of smoke, candlelight vigils in hotel parking lots…the warmth of strangers sharing loss, and the roaring sounds of silence from an empty sky. As long as these silent echoes resound, we will never forget.

Ephemeral Towers

On September 10, 2001, my mid-day flight had been delayed due to a weather system moving through the northeast, so I found myself driving to Logan Airport in heavy afternoon I-95 traffic. This drive stuck in my mind, not because of what would happen the next morning, but because of the words I heard on the radio. [I was a relatively new airline pilot, still on probation and a paltry probationary salary, so my entertainment options in my old Volvo station wagon were somewhat limited.] NPR was broadcasting the National Press Club luncheon where (then) Senator Joe Biden was the keynote speaker. At the time, the administration was preparing to back out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in order to test intercept missiles as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Biden’s remarks focused on a vision that the United States has a responsibility not to act unilaterally, backing away from our agreements and our allies, and instead we should maintain our global leadership role while focusing on countering nuclear, chemical, and biological terror threats posed by non-state actors to which we were far more vulnerable. [A clip of his remarks can be found here:] Glorious weather followed the passage of the front and everything about that afternoon felt routine and innocent. We had an uneventful flight from Boston to Los Angeles and, having landed late, went straight to sleep, only to awaken to the news of our next LA bound flight’s fate. Given the events of September 11th, Biden’s words struck me as having been a clarion call for action to counter terrorist threats that we could not yet fully comprehend…

The 9/11 Memorial fountain

5 thoughts on “Silent Echoes

  1. Malcolm, I appreciate this posting very much.

    Your personal story–and close connection to one of the flight’s involved–resonated with me strongly. So too did your photographs of the ‘Ephemeral Towers’ and, especially, the two images of the solemnly beautiful and deeply silencing memorial in New York.

    The news of that day hit hard at National Geographic. On ‘the Pentagon flight’ was a group (30 or so, as I recall) of underserved but gifted DC school children who had each won an all-expenses paid trip to the Channel Islands of California by distinguishing themselves over the school year in the study of geography. Accompanying them were teachers, parents and two staffers from the Geographic. One of those was the universally beloved and indispensible woman who ran the Travel office. For me life was never the same after her devastating departure.

    But there are many such stories. Today I’m thinking about yours.

    I also appreciate the mention you made of Joe Biden and his thoughts.

    For all your postings, but especially this one, thank you very much.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sam. I find writing about it each year is the best way to direct reflection. It helps as all of us carry the emotions of that day fairly close to the surface and it’s easy to get lost in the memories. Sharing seems to provide some catharsis. Your story of the kids on the National Geographic trip simply breaks my heart.


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