September 12, 2001
Phoning Home


The phone calls are what are getting to me today, more than anything else.

The newscasts were full of reports this morning: tales of desperate eleventh-hour calls made yesterday ... most of them placed on cell phones. Phone calls from victims still trapped inside the rubble of The World Trade Center. Phone calls from overwhelmed emergency workers, begging for reinforcements. Phone calls from shellshocked survivors as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. And -- most impossibly, horribly gut-wrenching of all -- phone calls from passengers aboard the doomed airliners, as they hurtled toward their premature and ghastly fate.

I'm going to die. I love you. Goodbye.

Can you imagine receiving such a call?

Can you imagine sitting at your desk at work on a Tuesday morning -- drinking your coffee, opening your mail, chatting with your co-workers about the football pool -- and picking up the phone in time to hear your husband or your wife, saying goodbye forever? Can you imagine standing in your kitchen -- trying to decide whether to defrost the pot roast or the chicken breasts -- and receiving a call from your son or your daughter, calmly announcing that they are about to die?

Can you imagine what that must feel like?

I can.

And that's what is tormenting me today, I think ... the fact that I absolutely CAN imagine such a thing. I can imagine it with my head and my heart and my gut. I can close my eyes, right now as I sit here typing this journal entry, and I can hear David's voice, or one of The Tots, or my Mom or my Dad or some other family member or beloved friend, delivering unimaginably horrible news from 35,000 feet in the air. I can feel the blood draining from my face as I listen. I can smell the fear. I can taste my gorge begin to rise.

It's so real, in fact, that every once in a while I have to stop whatever I'm doing and pick up the phone and call the people I love once again, just to make sure that they're still there.

Secra: "Did I already tell you that we're out of toilet paper?"
David: "I'm fine, honey. I love you."

(A vivid imagination can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on the circumstances: in this case, it's lot less the former and lots more the latter.)

Still, as awful as it is to imagine the emotional devastation of a phone call like that ... how much worse must it be to NOT receive such a call? What if you don't get a chance to hear that beloved voice one last time? What if they don't have time or opportunity or strength enough to make that call ... or what if they DO manage to find a way to call, but you aren't anywhere near a phone? What if death separates you before you're allowed to say "I love you" to each other, one final time?

I honestly don't know which would be worse. I pray I never have to find out.

Everyone is navigating uncharted emotional waters today, and we're all processing the horror in our own way. The things that deeply affect one person may not have the same impact on another. I heard a man on the radio this morning, for instance, saying that every time he sees the flags flying at half-mast, he breaks down and cries again. I hadn't even noticed that they'd been lowered.

For me -- today -- it was hearing about the phone calls.

For years I've been saying that I'll never buy a cell phone. They're intrusive, they're a nuisance, they're a safety hazard, they're used irresponsibly by a large and annoying segment of the population. Besides, I said to Jaymi just last week, the only people who would call me on a cell phone are people I wouldn't want to hear from anyway. (I was referring to co-workers and telemarketers, mostly ... although there is a Relative Who Hates Me or two who wouldn't be big buckets of fun to chat with while I'm grocery shopping, either.)  I just didn't want to become one of those annoying people who walks around with a cell phone clamped to her head 24/7, oblivious to the world around her ... or to the woman in the next bathroom stall.

But all I can tell you is this: I'm rethinking the whole cell phone thing today.

And that's something I NEVER thought I'd say.

throw a rock