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Maria Daddino

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Reflections and Remembrances of September 11, 2001
By Maria Daddino
Last edited: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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Feelings ... thoughts ... remembrances of September 11, 2001. I will never forget!

Began in the very early morning hours of September 15, 2001 and continuing ...

I keep waking up every few hours, feeling a strong need to look out my front windows ... to open them and breathe in the quiet darkness of my little lane in the heart of Long Island ... to see the many candles burning ... to see, almost feel the warmth emanating from them ... to take comfort in their golden glow. I wonder if my neighbors are doing the same ... if they are getting that same sense of reassurance from my candle as I am from theirs. Without any prearrangement, it seems that we have all decided to let our candles burn throughout the night. The darkness is so peaceful as I watch the flickering flames, their deep meaning touching my very soul. It is the first time in the last four days that the numbness I've felt has begun to ease. So much sadness ... so many hearts broken ... so many lives forever changed ... so much devastation ... so many tears ... so many feelings never felt before ... so many questions without any answers ...

My own life has forever changed and, yet, paradoxically, it seems somehow to have remained exactly the same. I have never felt so vulnerable, so helpless. Yet, the early morning sun, bright and glorious, still comes up over Long Island ... and, as always, I take pleasure in my favorite time of the day. The haze and humidity of summer are now gone, replaced by a crisp blue sky. I can't help thinking that in some ways it would be so much more fitting if today were dark and gray, cold and rainy. It should be a solemn day, to match my somber feelings. It's almost a sacrilege, after all the carnage and destruction, for today to be such a wonderful, warm, sunny day.

Life seems to be going on around me in slow motion ... could it have been only four days ago when I looked up at my beautiful Long Island sky, so full of puffy white clouds coming in on soft ocean breezes, so picturesque, only to see that sky devoid of the huge glistening silver birds that always shimmer so brilliantly in the early morning sun, their infinite destinations unknown ... no sounds ... the absolute quiet so eerie ... broken only intermittently by the harsh sounds of army and coast guard helicopters patrolling my beloved south shore, patrolling America's Atlantic coastline. How chilling ... and yet, how protected I feel each time I look up above ... My mind cannot seem to grasp, cannot comprehend the enormity of these events ... It cannot have happened ... not here ... not in America ... not in my America.

And, yet, on this beautiful "September morn", in spite of everything that has happened, I find myself doing what I always do ... feeding my "wild-friends" ... playing with my collie Misty ... making breakfast ... looking for Faith, so aptly named, it seems now, and watching as she skillfully leads her little duck family across Shore Lane. I marvel at how adeptly she guards her brood ... ever vigilant ... constantly struggling to ensure their survival ... and, somehow, in my mind, the two get mixed up, the survival of America and all we love about her, becomes intertwined with the survival of Faith and her ducklings ... both untiringly guiding their children through times of great peril. I promise myself that Faith's seven little ducklings will not only survive, but, they will thrive. In my very heavy heart, hope is slowly beginning to blossom ...

My mind is not a great thinking mind, but, rather, a feeling, sensing one. I cannot deal with abstracts, only the things that are here close to me, things that I can see and touch. At heart, I suppose I am a dreamer. I have always had the need to stop and smell ... and, touch ... the roses. And, so, I am having a great deal of trouble trying to absorb this horrific tragedy. My eyes, unbelievingly, saw what occurred, but, my mind cannot come to terms with the horrific loss of so many lives ... such terrible devastation.

My children are grown and, yet, it always amazes me when they help me or teach me or give me an insight that I have never before seen. And, so, on Wednesday, when my youngest son, Michael, who worked on the twenty-first floor of 2 World Trade Center, came upstairs to my third floor office to talk, I suspected that he just needed to be with me, to share, to grieve, to feel better. Perhaps, he did, but, perhaps, he, in his quiet, gentle and sensitive way, also knew what I needed ... what would help me most to cope. We sat for some time looking at my computer screen at the many unfathomable images of what were once the magnificent twin towers, but, instead of seeing just the twisted steel, the mountains of rubble and blocks of concrete ... the ashes and destruction ... Michael, with his simple words, brought a reality to the surreal, showing me where he often browsed for books at Borders Books ... where he and his co-workers ate Krispy Kreme donuts ... where he did his banking. He described in detail for me the plaza where concerts were often held ... the sculpture ... the fountain that since the first bombing in 1993, didn't always work because the water pipe had been accidentally sealed ... the glass skyway where people could walk between the buildings ... the farmers market which ringed the buildings on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Because Michael enabled me to see, in a personal way, what had been, before the destruction, it slowly, for me, became reality and I was finally able to begin to mourn for all of the innocent lives lost ... all of the innocent lives which will be forever indescribably wounded by this unspeakable tragedy ... all of us who will never ever be the same again.

I thought of my other children and how they had each helped me through this terrible time and once again, I found myself weaving a mental tapestry which intertwined my very personal experiences with the horrifying events of the morning of September 11, 2001, knowing that the events which were happening in my little world were taking place countless times all over America. Perhaps, this is the only way I could cope ...

My three sons, three little babies who came from three different parts of our great land, their genes not mine, but, their hearts definitely so much a part of me. Bobby, my middle son, always the first to call, the one who always wants the practical information - "What floor did Michael work on? Which building?". Tommy, my oldest, my pony-tailed drummer at heart, who by day works with severely handicapped patients and who, I've always suspected, hides his deep sensitivity behind an eternal optimism. "Michael's fine - don't worry!" My girls ... Dina, Bobby's wife, who I've known since she was a young girl of fifteen, at work, yet, without a word being exchanged between us, I knew, would be meticulously planning what had to be done, what would make it easier for me ... just in case there was not a happy ending for our family. And Sharon, Tommy's lovely bride, the last to join our family, at her home that infamous morning, and, at my home, with her compassion and her extra warm hugs, before the second plane hit. How united we were as a family, and, how united we all are across America!

I was one of the truly lucky moms. I received that "Hi, Mom" phone call and, for that ... and to the kind stranger who lent my son his cell phone ... I will always be eternally grateful.

Almost two weeks have gone by ... life goes on ... acceptance has started to set in, along with a justified anger ... but, the sadness and the tears, the deep sense of loss, will remain forever ...

There are changes here on my much loved Island ... some dramatic, some imperceptible. Our American flag flies high and proud on almost every home. It flutters on the antennas of cars and trucks, the handles of baby carriages, the backpacks of children on their way to school, the boats as they pass by my dock. America's colors seem so much brighter now, so much more vivid. My Island's sense of patriotism is so strong, it's almost palpable. How I love living here!

My front door, usually decorated at this time of year, with a wreath filled with bounty from my harvest or dried hydrangeas from my garden and festooned with ribbons in crisp fall colors has been replaced by a more solemn one, done in red, white and blue ...

The "Happy Autumn" screensaver on my computer is deleted, replaced by Old Glory waving in the breeze while strains of "America the Beautiful" play softly in the background. Every so often, the words "September 11, 2001. We will not forget." are superimposed over the flag ...

In the mornings, it seems no matter where I go, no matter what towns I pass through, memorial services are being held and traffic is detoured as long, deep lines of firemen and policemen, resplendent in their crisp dark blue uniforms, sorrowfully pay homage to their fallen comrades ... as anguished families cry and try to understand why ...

In the evening, the church bells ring out ... always beautiful ... always poignant ... but, now, especially so ... as they play "God Bless America" ...

I cannot keep my eyes from reading the obituaries in Newsday ... so many from Long Island forever lost ... so young, in the prime of their lives ... so many chapters left to live ... so many bereaved families ... so many children who will never know the love of two parents ... so many hopes unfulfilled ... so very many songs so sadly left unsung ...

Four weeks and five days have now gone by. My mind knows what happened, but, it seems, I still cannot entirely comprehend the enormity of this despicable, evil act. Long Island has been hit so hard and lost so many. Our hearts are very sad and extremely heavy ...

When I retired, I so enjoyed the luxury of having breakfast with my husband while we each read our favorite newspapers. He likes the New York Times with all its world news. I love Newsday with all the local information. Now, I try not to read all the stories, see all the faces, hear all the excruciating pain, but, my eyes are inexplicably drawn to the countless fresh young faces, so full of wonderful plans ... smiling on their wedding day ... happily holding their new baby ... hand in hand with a loved one ... proudly sitting on the wing of a single engine plane ... joyfully riding a high spirited horse ... ecstatic over a new Harley ... all so alive ... all so innocent ... all so very unaware.

Sleep no longer comes easy and, when, in the early morning darkness, it finally envelops me, I am awakened by frightful dreams, full of sadness, full of helplessness.

It is also different now whenever I meet friends and neighbors. There is always a moment ... a very brief tense moment ... a flickering of eyes ... an extra touch of hands ... an unspoken hope that they have not lost a loved one ... that they were as fortunate as I.

My friend Sarah sent me a very special e-mail ... God Bless America ... which I find so very comforting. I deeply appreciate the artistic effort and talent necessary to create such moving and inspiring beauty and I marvel at the generosity of our American spirit... so like us to help each other in our time of need in whatever way we can!

My husband and I - and even Misty - always look so forward to Halloween, to all the little hobgoblins who will come trick or treating, to their delight in picking out the exact candies that they like and the fact that they can have seconds. But, like everything that has happened since September 11th, this Halloween was different. The basket of treats which should be empty by now and ready for refills is still pretty full ... only four groups of children came by, each accompanied by parents, and each brought specifically to my home because, as one mother told me, her little girl said " I want to go to the duck lady's house because she doesn't hurt her ducks so she won't hurt me". I sat in my living room surrounded by my husband, Misty Blue, my plants and all the things that always made me feel happy and safe and the tears just rolled down my cheeks. I kept asking myself "what is happening?" Sadly, I had no answers ...

Newdays' pages are still full of the unique stories of all of those lost on September 11th. I don't want to read about all the young, vibrant lives that were cut short so tragically. I don't want to cry anymore. I don't want to feel sad anymore ... but, deep inside of me, I feel a need to remember ... a need to mourn ... a need to pay my respects.

November 12, 2001 ... two months and one day after the unspeakable ... and now the wounds of Long Island are once again raw and bleeding ... another jet crashes ... into houses just 25 or so miles from my peaceful home ... more lives lost ... more families shattered ... more hearts mourning.

Questions ... questions ... will I ever get used to the sound of the military helicopters and jets that rumble over my head ... that wake me up in the early hours of dawn? ... Will my heart ever mend? ... Will I ever be really happy again? ... Will I ever feel safe?

Almost seven months have now gone by ... I see changes in me ... I no longer take my future for granted. I treasure each day and each night even more than I did before September 11th. My priorities haven't changed, but, they have intensified. On Thanksgiving Day, I felt the need to be surrounded not only by my family, but, by my daughters-in-law's families, as well. It was a day of deep reflection, a day of reverent remembrance and a day of special thanks that all of our families were together ... unharmed ... but not untouched ... by the events of September 11, 2001.

I participated in a six month study conducted by Stanford University "Coping with the Stress of the Terrorist Attacks". I had to psyche myself up for several days before I could complete the various surveys. Their questions touched raw nerves and deep emotions within me and made me realize how much I had tried to bury my thoughts and feelings.

Spring is now in the air and my daffodils are in full bloom, happily smiling at me, reassuring me that life goes on and, perhaps, very soon, the warmth of the sun will help ease ... but, never erase ... the cruel, harsh wounds of winter.

Ten months and three days have gone bye. Summer is always so beautiful on Long Island and this year is no exception. So much is the same and, yet, so much is so very different. Special birthdays, my own included, have come and gone along with all the happy celebrations and surprise parties. My own children are well and happy. Life has been good to me. I suppose I realize this even more so now. At times, almost when I'm at my happiest it seems, I feel compelled to go back ... to read what I've written ... to relive my thoughts and feelings ... to cry ... to mourn ... to feel a deep sense of sadness for that which has been lost and can never be regained ... and, to never ever forget the horror of September 11th.

My way of looking at life has also changed ... My oldest son Tommy and his wife Sharon love to go for rides on their touring Harley-Davidson. I always silently worried. My middle son Bobby has had his pilot's license since he was eighteen. He and his wife Dina love to take short trips to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. I always worried. My youngest son, Michael, more a reader and a writer, a thinker, never pursued such precarious pleasures. I rarely worried. I should have ... one beautiful, sunny day in September 2001, Michael went to work at the World Trade Center ...

One year and one day ... I still cannot comprehend the horror and the devastation of that infamous day. How can anyone?

I spent yesterday alone with my heartbreaking thoughts. At 8:46 in the morning, I sat on my dock, listening to the church bells toll, watching the swirling water, smelling the salt air, feeling the wind in my face, remembering ... remembering ... crying ... crying ...

By afternoon, the winds raged with in-excess-of 50 mile-per-hour gusts ... angry, like me, angry at the carnage of last September ... perhaps, the winds were simply echoing the haunting cries of those forever lost ...

I was invited to a reception and formal program at Hofstra University to inaugurate the exhibition of "Where There Is Sorrow, There Is Holy Ground; A September 11, 2001 Anniversary Perspective". It is a collection of artifacts of how Long Islanders coped with the tragedy. All of the e-mails looking for Michael that were posted online by his friends on so many bulletin boards are included in the exhibit, as is Michael's much-awaited e-mail telling us all that he is alive and well and heading home to Bay Shore. I had intended to go to the reception, even looked forward to going, but, at the last minute, for whatever complex reasons there were swirling around in my head, I just couldn't.

And, then around nine, Michael called and the pieces all fell into place. I needed to hear his voice, to tell him I loved him ... and, perhaps, soon, we will visit the exhibit together ... mother and son ...

It is now four years later, exactly two weeks to the day before the fifth anniversary of the destruction of The World Trade Center.

There have been many changes in my life. I have moved from my "forever" home on Penataquit Creek in Bay Shore to a home in the woods in the little hamlet of East Quogue, almost at the eastern tip of Long Island. There is a deep sense of community here, something for which I have always longed. When someone asks how you are, they want to hear the answer. When someone asks if you need help, they are prepared to help. My home is surrounded by towering pines and old oak trees. Deer abound, as do bunnies and pheasants, and flocks of birds I've only read about in my Audubon Guides visit and feed before they fly south.

There are farms here and wineries. The pace of life is slower and sweeter. Nature is important here. Cars stop and patiently wait while an Eastern Box Turtle crosses Montauk Highway. Land is preserved and treasured. The things that are important to me are cherished here. My home is insular. I feel safe here and feeling safe has become very important to me since September 11th.

I am drawn to the September 11th documentaries. The old feelings still come over me ... the sadness ... the horror ... the sense of the surreal ... my tears flow more freely ... and, I still find that there is a deep need to grieve. I am almost afraid of Monday, September 11th, 2006.

2009 ~ Eight years have gone by and, still, I am haunted by my memories. The rain fell in torrents at 8:46 a.m. and continued for over an hour ... hard, driving rain ... relentless ... harsh ... tears from heaven ... from those who had so much more to give ...

Sleep has been difficult for me these last few nights, nightmares and unease abound, coming, I suppose, from my subconscious mind that remembers too well my dark feelings.

Images are still vivid in my mind ... driving that day past the Suffolk County Courthouse Complex in Central Islip ... the parking lot always so full eerily empty and National Guardsmen with rifles blocking the entrances.

Surprisingly, feelings long buried, easily come to the surface ... the helplessness and hopelessness ... the shock and disbelief ... the terror and horror.

I try to put my life in perspective ... the sun still shines ... the moon and stars still light the night ... life does go on ... and life does change ...

My sons are well and happy. My daughter (in-law) is very special. I now have four delightful grandchildren ... six-year-old triplets - Julia, Luke and William - and little two-year-old Matthew.

And, I am at a very special time in my life. After being a care-giver for fifteen years, I am finally able to pursue my dreams. I write a column, "From Fourth Neck," for The Southampton Press. My memoirs of nature will be published soon and I am involved in wildlife and nature organizations, as well as local historical, civic and beautification organizations. Life has been good to me ...
My heart goes out to those who lost sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, moms and dads, husbands and wives, friends and lovers ...
I can only hope that, in time, you will find peace and serenity ... and that the spirits of your loved ones will always surround you and give you great comfort ...

To those who witnessed such terrifying evil and malevolence ...
I can only hope that, in time, your horrific memories will dim and the ghastly images will fade ... and that you will someday find a sense of tranquility and peace of mind ...

To our police and firefighters, our doctors and nurses, our emergency medical technicians and all the many, many rescue workers ...
you are our true heroes ... you are the spirit of America ... you are her soaring eagles ...

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her,
Through the night, with the light from above,
From the mountains, to the prairies
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home,
God bless America! My Home Sweet Home!

Web Site September 11, 2001

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