Monday, May 21, 2007

Yesterday was the second annual ceremony called "A Time of Remembrance". It is program of the White House Commission on Remembrance, which also encourages a moment of silence at 3:00pm local time on Memorial Day (May 28th this year) in honor the country's fallen. We were a little ambivalent about going. These events are tough anyway, and the opportunities for going wrong in such a ceremony are legion. In the end, Richard and I were the only ones from our family to go--as Anna and Maria both said, I get more out of these things than they do anyway. We kept threatening to bail if the weather got bad, but in the end the sun was shining and a nice breeze kept it from becoming unbearably hot.

As I noticed last year, though there were several thousand families present, they really did not speak to each other. This is one place where I wish they would say, "Please turn and greet your neighbor!" The brochures they sent spoke of all of these families being together, but it might work better if the organizers actually did something to facilitate some communication. I actually ended up stopping a family on the street who were obviously not from Washington DC (Texas and Louisiana) and asking them if they had lost their son. Yes, they had, his name was Chase, like my friend Laurie's son, he died in April of last year. We talked and exchanged e-mails and some thoughts about how things at this event might be improved, but above all we were glad to have connected with another family who understood.

But there were some real improvements over last year's presentation. The ceremony began with the flyover--last year's ended with the flyover and the plane was a trifle late--this year we didn't start until the plane had passed. And the names of all the fallen were displayed on an electronic crawl that went over the stage, rather than on what appeared to be slides last year.

It's a week later and I have just gotten back to this blog, but I did want to complete my thought. Today is actually Memorial Day and we will be going to Mass in the cemetery, Gate of Heaven, where Thomas is buried. I have a flag I found at Target for $.99, we'll find flowers I think. Perhaps I will write more later today if I can find a moment of peace and quiet, but I will start a new entry if I do.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I was just listening to a radio review of a new book by Don DeLillo about 9/11. The reviewer was having trouble with the depiction of the post-event numbness, and maybe that is really hard to read, but it certainly matches what I remember, both numbness and an exaggerated care to not tread on anyone else's space or feelings. In fact, I think that going to New York in December of 2004 was in part to remember how we had arrived at this point. Oddly, I don't think we actually made it as far as the site of the World Trade Center, though I had certainly visited it before and have since then as well. I just can't remember. Matthew and I saw it together in August of 2004, I had seen it with Debbie in January of 2002 when it was still being very actively excavated for remains, and I saw it again in June of 2005. But on that December trip, my memory has a hole as big as Ground Zero itself where the decision to go or not go should be.

And about 9/11, which seems to keep coming up: last night at our PTA meeting, the high school principal reminded us that the children of Montgomery County Maryland had a pretty bad stretch in there, beginning with 9/11, the snipers the following year, hurricane Isabel (which was more fun for us than anything else), and for this particular school the loss of a student in an inexplicable car crash: all of these occurred during the first quarter of successive school years. To this list I could have added Thomas's death a few weeks after the car crash, but I did not. This is not the first time she has brought up this sequence of events, but it is the first time that I've realized that it is not just the children who are suffering.

And for us as a family: My children were in four different schools and my husband was in the District of Columbia when the attacks happened. they closed the schools a couple of hours early and sent the kids home to be with their families but most of us just felt at loose ends: it seemed that nothing more was going to happen that day so we just went back to trying to be normal. We are far enough away from the Pentagon or any other significant facility that we did not feel threatened particularly, so when Thomas asked if he could go to McDonald's with his friends I said yes. Forgive me if I've related this before: it kind of exemplified what we are after here in this country, those friends, a Jewish boy, a Muslim boy of Pakistani parents, a Korean boy, and my pale Germanic Catholic son. It never occurred to me to worry that they might be harassed: I was right to feel they were safe.

Thomas's school lost a father in the Pentagon. Thomas did not know the family but it was a galvanizing event for the entire school, which had a truly international student body and faculty. I think it did solidify Thomas's decision to join the military one way or the other--he had decided to apply for West Point despite his grades. The rest of his record was exemplary and he was in the process of earning an International Baccaleaureate diploma which might have compensated for his less than stellar academic performance (it was an awful performance truth be told, because he hated homework, in fact all paperwork, despite wanting to be a writer). In the end he had decided that he did not want to be an officer by the time West Point turned him down. He joined the Army Reserves, and then decided to go active duty instead, feeling college would be a waste of time until he learned some discipline.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

In the first picture, Richard on the right is shaking hands with Ike Leggett, our County Executive. In the second picture, I am standing on the left with DeBora King. (edited to correct this--I am bad with left-right orientation and had Richard on the left in the picture with Mr. Leggett!)

Today our local community held a 40th anniversary celebration, and as part of that they honored Thomas's memory. Herman Taylor, our delegate to the Maryland Assembly, read a citation, and a trumpeter played Taps in the courtyard of Page Elementary School where Thomas went to 4th and 5th grades. The person who originated the idea of doing this is DeBora King, the current president of the Page PTA. It was beautifully done, and we are grateful to the Tamarack Triangle Civic Association for this honor.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

After Anne went home, we decided to go to New York City as another distraction and a way to pass the time until we could begin to feel better. New York in December can be a mite chilly and that year was no exception as the temperature hovered in the teens and the wind blew like mad. We took the train, parking at Union Station in DC for two nights (the car was still there when we got back). Once again, I have to admit that this trip is a bit foggy in my memory. Matthew and I did not go to the top of the Empire State Building with everyone else--he was a bit afraid of the height and I was not enthusiastic about standing outside in an Arctic wind. It is a beautiful building though. We did some shopping. We went to St. Patrick's. We had lunch in a bar that we'd read about in the paper: it was supposed to have good hamburgers. The people in the next booth were talking about the recently released news that Donald Rumsfeld had been using a signature machine to sign his condolence notes to the families of fallen servicemembers. I considered standing up and telling them that I didn't really care, but decided that would be embarrassing to my family and maybe a bit vindictive. It wasn't their fault that we found ourselves in this position.

When we came back, we had to face Christmas without Thomas. What to do with his Christmas stocking? We've been through two more Christmases since then and I still can't figure that out. Worse, we actually had a couple of presents for him which we had purchased when Richard and I visited Australia the previous June. Oh well.