Six years ago today, I was working in an office building near Dulles Airport. A coveted window seat, where when the work got a bit too dull I could just swing my chair around and watch the planes coming in – looking like they might land on the roof over my head or the fountains in front rather than bothering to fly the last two miles to the airport.
Six years ago today, I lived in an apartment a few miles from my office, a few miles further from the airport, but directly on the flight path. So many planes flew just over our heads every day that I had long ago stopped noticing, long ago stopped hearing the constant engines or noticing the ever-present contrails.
The thing I always remember most about six years ago today, after the disbelief had turned to understanding and horror, after the panic, after the rumors that the 14th Street Bridge had been hit, that the Gannet Building had been hit, that there was one more plane unaccounted for, or two more planes or six more planes, after my office was evacuated and we all spilled out into the gorgeous, clear September morning, the thing I will always remember most is the silence.
At first, there were lots of planes coming in, and then fewer and accompanied by screaming fighters, and then there was nothing. No more planes, no sound of engines, no long streams of frozen exhaust stretching across the sky, nothing but the occasional F-16 shattering the startling blue sky with it’s massive engines. And then eventually, even the fighters stopped flying. The skies were empty, the roads were empty as everyone had either headed home early or was camped out downtown waiting for the highways to clear, the blockades to be lifted. For all that long afternoon and evening, it was as if nothing moved.
It was as if we all, instinctively, took a long moment of silence. We all just stopped, and waited, and held our breath until we could believe that it was over, it was done, as horrible and mind-shattering as it was, there was, at least, no more to come that day. No more to come but the silence.
Photo by Jeff Kubina.