Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Can't Believe It's Been Ten Years

I can't believe it's been ten years. I don't want to write one of those maudlin essays about September 11th, because everywhere you look you can find someone who has written one of those. The emotion in them is overwhelming, and I'm not really ready to go there. Not yet. I know there are deep feelings of grief just barely under the surface of my skin, but it feels indulgent to succumb to them. I didn't know anyone who died on 9/11. It was not my personal tragedy. And yet, I lived in Manhattan at the time, in the West Village, and I experienced the attack on the city in an extremely visceral way. It changed me. It changed us. It was just yesterday and a lifetime ago. I can't believe it's been ten years.

My apartment was on West 11th Street, and our block was set up as the headquarters for information about survivors. All the streets downtown were closed to traffic, and if you needed to find out if your missing friend or family member had been taken to one of the nearby hospitals, they sent you to my block. Tables lined the street, like the press tables temporarily set up for picking up tickets at an opening night event. On one side of the tables sat weary officials behind huge stacks of paper. If your person had made it out of the Towers and had been taken to St. Vincent's Hospital, a few blocks away, you came here to find that out. On the other side of the table stood rows and rows of the most worried faces I have ever seen. And the brownstone steps, for blocks in either direction, were lined with people who didn't yet know anything. It was a place for waiting.

That was the view from my apartment.

On the actual morning of September 11th, however, I woke up in Jason's apartment on the Upper West Side. His phone rang, early. It was his mother, frantic, telling us the world was ending and we should turn on the TV. We turned it on and watched the second plane hit. I remember wondering if my 3 pm coaching was going to happen that afternoon. (It was Alyssa Van Gorder. Funny what you don't forget.) I didn't understand the magnitude of what I was seeing. I had this surreal experience of watching something on TV that was happening only a few miles away. I felt removed from it, like it was a movie, a fictionalized Hollywood horror story. But by the afternoon, the smell in the air made it clear how close we actually were. New York was acrid and pungent for months. You kind of got used to it, which was horrifying in its own way.

A few weeks later, in early October, Jason and I flew to Japan with our friends and colleagues Sally Wilfert and Keith Byron Kirk. We were doing concerts of our own music for the 2001 Tono American Music Festival, created and hosted by my college friend Kevin Simmonds. The plane was empty enough that we spread out and each slept in our own row. When we arrived, the Japanese people seemed more grateful than ever that we had made the trip. They wanted to touch us, to feel that we were okay. We had anticipated being ambassadors of music; we wound up being ambassadors of New York and of America.

That November, my best friend Lisa's daughter Annie had her first birthday, and I tried to write a song to honor the occasion. The lyric was meant to be a celebration of this innocent young life, and instead it wound up being about September 11th. I never wrote the music. I couldn't find it. I put it in a file on my computer where I put lyrics that I intend to come back to later, when I'm ready. I've never gone back to it. I looked at it this week, in anticipation of today. I certainly see how I could edit this thing, fix it, make the words more original, the ideas less cliche. But I still don't hear any music. Ten years later, and I guess I'm still not ready.

I can't believe it's been ten years.

GROWING TO DO
for Annalise Francis Cole on her first birthday, November 17, 2001
Words and Music (?) by Georgia Stitt
©2001 Geocate Music (ASCAP)


Annie was born in November,

A bundle of warmth to a city of snow.

And the world changed

'Cause a baby had started to cry.

Wrapped in pink and all geared up to grow–

That’s how little Annalise said hi.



She giggles, she squeals, she drools,

And she laughs at cootchie-coo.

We’ve all got some growing to do.



Annie could crawl by September.

Pull herself up with her miniature hands.

But the world changed.

When the city outside tumbled down.

Lives and buildings snapped like rubber bands.

Annie didn’t even know to frown.



We struggle, we doubt, we mourn.

And we grieve until we’re blue.

We’ve all got some growing to do.



Sometimes a plane can fall out of the sky.

A war can break out in the wink of an eye,

And people who didn’t do anything wrong can die.

We ask, unanswered,

Why?



Annie was one this November –

A child full of warmth for a city in fright.

And the world changed.

When Annie revealed she could walk.

Baby steps and holding on too tight.

Maybe little Annie’s got it right.

And maybe all the rest of it is talk.



We stumble. We stretch. We cry,

But in time, we will renew.

Baby steps and holding on too tight.

We’ve all got some growing to do.

We’ve all got some growing to do.

5 comments:

Susan Egan said...

So beautiful, Georgia. I think the lack of music says the most. Don't change a word. It speaks of the time, and it's poem-nature is just as it should be. Every word perfect. It capture how we all felt then -- and that is worth preserving.

I can't believe I knew you then, but didn't know you. =) See? The ten years has brought some good. Here we are ... mother's of two. Marching on.

Laura said...

Thank you, Georgia.

Madeline said...

This post gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. Your experience that you wrote about, I think, is particularly chilling because it resonates with the experience of so many on that day, those of us who didn't lose someone in the tragedy but still felt loss. Your lyric, powerful and heartfelt, takes on completely new meaning in the context of September 11th, and I wonder what the music to it will sound like when you finally start to hear it. Thank you for such a beautiful and stirring post.

Jesse said...

Gorgeous

Lisa Cole said...

I am honored! Honored that you wrote it for my daughter. And very very honored to have known such a beautiful and talented soul for this many years! Thank you. You are a blessing in my life!! PS Maybe for Annie's wedding you can write music for it and sing it :) You've got some time!! Lots and lots of time. At almost 12, boys are still stupid to her!!