The World Is Burning

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.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

26 thoughts on “The World Is Burning”

  1. I remember exactly what i was doing when the towers came down. I watched the second one on TV, while filling new hire packets at work, in the conference room. It was amazing. I will never forget.

    And you’re right…the love and compassion and togetherness that the terrible tragedy brought was remarkable. If only people could act like that at all times. What a better world we would live in.

    The story of the daycare child and his family is almost too much to imagine.

    1. I remember that day with such painful clarity, but two days later when Kyle died, it was like it came to my house.

      I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but the two things so close together – they crushed me. And the two events sort of blended in my mind.

    1. Thank you. Yes, it’s very sad. We can always be kind. We don’t have to wait for a tragedy for that!

      Some people are too angry for that, I think. Like, fundamentally, in-their-bones angry.

  2. You know how close to home this post hits for me.
    I cry for my brother.
    I cry for Kyle.
    I cry for Noah.
    I cry for “Her spouse; his niece. Their daughter. His sister. Her best friend. His lover. Their youngest child. His mom.”
    I cry for each of them. Exponentially.
    Painfully beautiful, Adrienne.

    1. Thank you. Yes, all those people, but each one an individual, an enormous loss. Like your brother. Like your dad. Like my aunt.

      Sigh. I’d rather live in kindness than bitterness. I don’t have to tell you about that, though! You know about that choice even better than I do.

  3. Lovely, yet tragic post today Adrienne. Thank you for the reminder. Thank you for helping me to remember. I remember that day and the grief for the loss of the lives, the loss of the naive comfort and security that so many of us lived with.

    Thank you.

  4. Very touching post. My parents lost 2 of their sons before I was born. The first baby died at 4 months, the second baby died hours after he was delivered. I was a child when I first heard about this, my grandmother showed me a picture of an adorable baby boy and said, this was your brother. Though I was sad, I never quite understood how painful their loss was until I held my own healthy boy at 4 months and thought, how did my mom survive losing 2 of them?

    You are right that we should go through pain like this together, it is the only way.

    1. Oh, ow. What your parents went through – that’s more than anyone should ever endure. Losing a child – there’s nothing more unnatural, more WRONG, than that.

    1. I never knew their eldest son, but the pain on them was so huge, and when Kyle died…it was so, so big. I was so worried about them both, but they survived. Barely, but they survived. Two years later, they had another little boy who is still with us on planet earth today. 🙂

  5. I’ve read many posts on 911 today! This is one of the most heart wrenching! You’re right it was individual people and the individuals who loved them that matter more than the scary numbers!

    1. Thank you. Yes, the numbers? They’re shocking, but they don’t really capture it. Nothing can, of course. Words can’t wrap themselves around some things.

    1. Wow. Thank you. It was so tangled, the whole thing, to be present for Kyle’s family while the whole world was caught up in that other horror…I didn’t know which way was up, but I knew that all the grieving was the same.

      Sigh. I haven’t been to a funeral since Kyle’s, after going to far, far too many in the preceding 20 years, mostly for very young people. Very grateful for all of these funeral-free years in a row that I’ve had.

    1. Thanks, Megan. Yeah; I hear you. That experience was huge, but I’ve had nine years to work it out in my mind. Some things take that long to form words around themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.