On September 13, 2001, I was home alone. I don’t remember why; there should have been kids in the house. Perhaps I wasn’t alone, and the kids were napping? In any case, I was at my desk, doing daycare paperwork, when the phone rang.
The phone had been ringing a great deal. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk, to connect. The world was burning.
A very officious-sounding woman was on the phone, “Hello, this is Deputy Smith from the Bernalillo County sheriff’s department. Is this Adrienne Jones, child care provider for the infant Kyle Marks who died yesterday?”
“Excuse me,” I squeaked. I set the phone down and vomited in the wastebasket. The world went black around the edges as I rinsed my mouth and tried to regain enough composure to speak.
On the phone again, Deputy Smith was apologetic. “Ms. Jones, I thought you knew. I’m so sorry; I would have been gentler. I thought the family would have called you.”
“No, I haven’t seen them since Tuesday. They got scared. No, they were upset. Everyone was upset and they came to get him right before the second tower went down. What time was that? When did Kyle die? Oh, my God. Was it the same thing? Did he die the same way as his brother?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know. The coroner has to make that determination. Kyle died early yesterday morning. The parents woke up and he had passed away. I’m so sorry; I need to ask you a few questions. I’ll try to be brief, OK? Can you answer a few questions?”
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry.”
The deputy asked me a dozen questions – standard stuff, and since I’d never noticed a thing about Kyle or his parents that concerned me, we were done before too long.
When I had answered all of her questions and finally hung up the phone, I lost my mind with grief. For Kyle, yes; for the loss of a little boy who had only lived four months, but even more, I wept for Kyle’s parents. Their first baby, Noah, had died just 10 months earlier.
Twice, in one year, they buried a child.
A few days later, Brian and I went to Kyle’s funeral at a tiny church in the North Valley, then followed the funeral procession to the cemetery. I rode head-down the whole way, crying into a giant ball of tissues. When he stopped the car and I finally looked up, I realized we were just up the hill from Gabrielle’s grave.
I dissolved into a puddle of overwhelming grief – for Kyle and his brother, for Gabrielle and Rachel, for parents and siblings and spouses and lovers and friends and children. The weight of a nation – the world – one family. The grief.
So much pain.
The number dead in the September 11, 2001 attacks is staggering – 2,996 – but it is, in some sense, meaningless.
Her spouse; his niece. Their daughter. His sister. Her best friend. His lover. Their youngest child. His mom.
Wives wept in the shower; pastors, imams, rabbis, and priests comforted their people; fathers held their children. People suffered. People. Individual people, bound together by the threads of pain.
Do you remember in the days after the towers came down, and the people on the ground were covered in ashes so that they all looked the same? People showed up to help – thousands of people – and those of us far away from the site of the tragedies said prayers and helped in other ways. We held our breath and hoped for survivors; we wept together when there were only a few. We cried with gratitude for the many heroes – first-responders and ordinary people who risked everything, or gave everything.
There was so much heat in that connection.
I hugged Kyle’s dad after the funeral and said, “I miss your little boy. I loved him.”
He wept into my hair, crying, “I can’t stand it. It hurts too much. I can’t stand it!” We cried like that for a long time, together.
It’s better that way.
Not easier; not less painful. Just…better.
Multiply compassion and love in the world this weekend, my friends. Multiply hope.