Hooray for Member Monday! It’s my pleasure to share a beautiful piece by the multi-talented Linda Boyden.
Authors Note: In 2001, my husband and I lived on Maui, Hawai’i. We had just begun renovations to the master bathroom when the 9/11 tragedy stopped our country in its tracks. I was far removed from NYC and D.C. but still it was hard to concentrate on anything else. Life returned to normal slowly, but as I watched the men tearing down our large tub, seeing the piles of concrete debris reminded me everyday of what was happening to the Twin Towers. Remarkably, in the rubble in our house, I discovered a hidden treasure and I had to write about it. -Linda Boyden
Something of Hope
Like most Hawaiians, the news came to my house at 5 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001. The phone rang and my neighbor’s voice said, “New York City has been attacked. Turn on the TV.”Incredulous, my husband and I watched as the scenes replayed themselves in a Mobius strip of horror: New York City, Washington, D.C., and the crash of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania. We spent the next few days numb, as empty as the blue skies over Maui.Perfect and clear as ever, but devoid of jets and helicopters, the skies whispered a bleak message: not only were the tourists stranded, we residents were, too. Isolated from the mayhem, yes, but alone in the wide blue sea.By the end of the first week, leaders and experts told us to return to normal. As if it were a place, I thought, say Normal, Oklahoma. Or Normal, Nevada, or maybe a hamlet in Idaho, but certainly nowhere back East, where we both were born, where many of our relatives and friends still lived, where I was sure nothing would be normal for a long, long time.
With the air ban lifted, my husband and his crew returned to their work on Kaho’olawe Island.
I tried. Since I worked from home as a writer, the first step toward normal was to turn off the television and get back to my writing project. Yet, I couldn’t write. My thoughts refused to be threaded into anything coherent.
Worse, I couldn’t read, my lifeline to sanity since first grade. Amid divorce, financial woes, and the years of being held “captive” by a houseful of teens, a good book had always anchored me, served as a beacon through any trouble, but not that first week.
Sure, I read a sentence here, a paragraph there, but not a whole page. So I resorted to manual labor.
A few days before the attack, we had begun a home improvement project. Our master bathroom had boasted a six foot long, three foot deep, red tile bathtub––a virtual koi pond of a tub, but without jets and heater, and therefore utterly useless.
As soon as it filled with water––tons of water by the way––the temperature was tepid at best and then turned frigid, even on a tropical island! The contractor showed us the reason: beneath its lovely exterior, the tub was solid concrete.
The workers demolished it within an hour, their heavy artillery, jackhammers rat-a-tat-tatting through concrete.
The resulting rubble resembled a miniature of the scenes portrayed on the news. A hill of debris stood in lieu of the tub, my beautiful bathroom, like the City, a far cry from its former self.
I donned work gloves and began to shovel the mess into a wheelbarrow to be loaded into the pickup for an eventual dump run.
As I shoveled, my thoughts drifted to the NYC rescue workers. The dust, even from so little concrete, infiltrated as far away as the living room at the opposite end of our sprawling house. In the work area, it stung eyes, nose and throat. I wheezed and consumed gallons of water.
Beyond those discomforts was the actual physical labor, the slow, back-breaking effort of lifting shovelful after shovelful of heavy material. I had designed my entire life avoiding things like Algebra and manual work, but in that mid September, it actually did me good. Good to use my body. Good to let my mind rest.
Then I discovered it.
In the next shovelful, one red tile, unscathed…four precise corners and four unchinked sides hidden in the wreckage. I held it to the light, swiped it on my shirt: how had it survived jackhammer, sledgehammer and workmen’s boots?
I had no use for it, a single red tile, but I put it aside anyway because…? Because something pretty had survived.
By the end of the day, I miraculously found twelve such tiles, each as unexpected as a violet blooming in the snow.
I told myself then and tell myself now, when difficult years wind down and the approaching New Year waits uncertain: dig through the sorrow, find a piece of joy and rekindle something of hope.
To learn more about Linda Boyden or purchase her books, please visit her website.
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