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Autumn's Ashes


17 years ago, today, I was still married to my first husband Steven. The romantic part of our relationship had ended and we had taken to sleeping in separate rooms. For some reason, I had slept through my alarm and woke with a start as the morning sun filtered into my room. As is customary, I flipped on the TV as a headed to the shower. I began my morning routine in haste due to my late awakening, I caught the phrase "towers are on fire" emanating from the television. I stuck my head out of the bathroom in time to see the first tower collapse. As with most Americans that day, I was in shock. Not realizing what was going on, I bolted down the hallway to Steven's room and said "babe you need to see this". He looked at me, saw I was scared and immediately grabbed me and pulled me into his warm embrace. After making me feel safe, which was his great talent, he came with me down the hall to my room and we watched together in horror the unfolding scene. Coming to my senses, I announced I needed to get to work. Steven looked at me with those steel blue eyes and begged me to stay. I couldn't. Two months prior I had taken a position with Kaiser Permanente. As a department director, I was a first response employee and was required to be at the facility during times of disaster. I assured Steven I would be getting a code triage call at any moment, and that my duty required me to go. Knowing I was right, he let me go, reluctantly. I rushed out of the house and headed to work. As I drove down 880 toward the Dumbarton Bridge, I noticed two things. No traffic and shell-shocked drivers. I approached the toll plaza noticing again, the complete lack of traffic. It was as if I was out on an early Sunday morning. The buzz of activity that is the hallmark of Bay Area freeways, hushed as a psalm. I handed my fare to the toll taker but she refused, saying "we're not taking fares, the national guard thinks it's too risky". I noticed for the first time that national guard units were flanking the toll gates. A young Sargent waved me though the toll plaza and I watched in my rear-view mirror as the bridge was literally closed behind me. It was surreal. Realizing I had no radio at work, I stopped at a Target store on the way into the hospital. Barely 10 in the morning and the lot was packed. I rush in and see panic buying for the first time since the Loma Prieta earthquake in '89. I grab a radio, one of the last on the shelf. After what seemed like an eternity, I'm out of the check stand and headed back to my car. It's funny the things that go through your mind as a disaster unfolds around you. It was hot that morning. Indian Summer had arrived in the Bay Area, something us natives looked forward to. While the rest of the country basks in the June and July sun, SF is usually socked in by the ubiquitous fog that my native Bay is known for. September and October were the Bay's summer months. The heat reminded me that it was also hot those October days not long ago when the ground shook and fires raged. Both Loma Prieta and the Oakland Hills Fire had occurred on days just like this. Hot, acrid and hazy the late summer sun slung low in the sky. As I sat in my office, listening to the news coverage, I began to write. What follows is what came out of me that day. I post this in remembrance of that day, and those innocent souls who were lost to a needless malice. Autumn's Ashes We are a nation of ashes. A Phoenix people. A Nation with a foundation built upon fallen empires. Made of Native bones and timber. Her joists raised by the sweat and toil of slaves. Her Roof divided by intransigent Rebels. Mended by Battle Hymns, and penitent blood. This young temple, this last best hope for freedom has held. Fast against belligerent Teutonic bears, and ambitious Rising Suns. Her guardians are strong. Her worshipers many. Twin columns fell today. Smote in defiant challenge. Unnatural rain falls hard on Manhattan. Brick and bone and flesh. And from this unholy hail, The Phoenix people will mix. We will mix as we hear the bell toll. We will mix by the torch's light. We will mix as our stars blaze white in a field of blue. We people of alchemy. We will blend the ancient ash with the new. And from this Martyr’s mortar, We will The Firebird To Rise.


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