"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

September 11, 2011

Ten Years On

"I remember blue – an infinite sky of clear."

This day honors not only a forever changing moment in our national consciousness but it has also come to define the advent of a chaotic decade in my life––some good, some bad. A week ago I went off an antidepressant I had been taking for 18 months. It was time: I wanted to feel again the full spectrum of myself after some midlife and emotional collywobbles. My timing could not have been better. I want to embrace this period––starting with my last year before turning 50––of my life with full sensory awareness and, if necessary, guns blazing.

Ten years ago we were in our Hancock home with our 13 year old daughter, our 3 1/2 year old son and our nearly 18-month old youngest son. It was the day before Henry was to start preschool and Addie was about to enter 8th grade, her last year at the school she attended. My father-in-law had just passed away a few months before and my own father was about to enter into the last year of his life, dying two days before my 40th birthday in 2002. Of course I did not know that on 9-11. What I did know was that my mother was days away from her third marriage and already I had begun to sense a profound and seismic shift in the world: that it would never be the same in my extended family. It wasn't.

I've moved beyond that reality now but it still haunts me at times, like a bad dream from childhood that, instead of being comforted with the reality that it was a dream upon waking, has become, at times, a waking nightmare. This is my reality through the glasses of an adult: my inner child sometimes still surfaces, I confront the anxiety or the loss, and back in she goes again.

None of my own extended family has died in the past ten years, except my father (but my parents' marriage had ended long before–ironically, this past July would have been their 50th anniversary), and yet we have all, in different ways and choices, experienced the death of that family and the comfort of our familiar with each other. It is gone and it has been gone for some time. It is as if we walk the earth as ghosts of our own past: we all have our own productive lives but they do not intersect. Our time together now seems so far away and remote, inaccessible. It's not just geographical but emotional distancing. All bridges are now out and you can only try so many times to cross them.

There are many reasons for this but I would say that our collective homeplace began to collapse about ten years ago. There has been no rebuilding and there were few inroads to this disaster of personality, misunderstanding, many untruths, subtle manipulations, shuttered distancing, and often outright rejection. We were all in some way complicit in the events or the outcome: a whole colony collapse disorder after the queen had left the hive.

The other day I wrote a haiku to mark how I was feeling about 9-11 in as spare a way as possible. I posted it, as I do many odd quips and quotes, on Facebook. I can not speak for the suffering and experience of others but it encapsulates that day for me and its aftermath:

I remember blue,
an infinite sky of clear:
then mirrors breaking.

When the Twin Towers fell and the mirrored glass shattered on those two iconic and symbolic buildings, lives came tumbling down, and ours did, too, in a more subtle way. Broken shards of mirrors and seven years bad luck. So we have rebuilt here. Three years ago we did not flee our reality but found it, instead. It has been a balm, a comfort, a great journey to find ourselves here at midlife on a farm of our own, in our own lives. It can also be isolating at times, especially during those moments and occasions when you feel the loss of family acutely. I love my extended family. This is said in the present tense. But I mourn their passing, too. I mourn what we once were before the week of 9-11, each and every day.

Lately I've been canning. A lot. It seems to be this instinctual drive of mine to provide, to fill cupboards, to have food on hand. It is comforting and it is also something I can do. I realized this morning that our lives are defined by our days, not by our anniversaries. But days turn into decades and here we are:
It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...and we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here.
 ~ Wendell Berry
Evil comes in many forms and it can be insidious. All the love in the world can not change the opinions––or the ideology––of a few. If 9-11 taught me anything, and at the vantage point of distance and television––like watching an unimaginable disaster movie unfold in real time––it is that as much as things change, they stay the same, too. And really, in the end, all we can control is how we interact with the world, how we move through it, how we treat each other, and what we can do to provide for our family: whether it is in validation, understanding and acceptance, a needed hug, or ten jars of nectarine jam.

You come back when you're ready!



  1. We do what we can.

  2. Boy did this post hit a nerve, Catherine. So much so that I had a lump in my throat by the third sentence.

    Our queen left the hive five years ago, and my extended family seems to be irrevocably broken as a result. Although I long for New Hampshire, (Those fabulous stone walls, birch trees and mountains.) It is unsettling to return to a place you love so much and realize that you no longer have a "home" there. There are days I'm hellbent on "fixing" things, restoring relationships, and others where I think it is best just to "let sleeping dogs lie."

    My sister's best friend is Todd and Lisa Beamer's (Flight 93 "Let's Roll") sister-in-law, and they were in New Jersey caring for their children while Todd and Lisa were on vacation just days before September 11. As a result, this day was life changing on so many levels.

    God bless America and those who have died, and those who so selflessly serve and sacrifice for our safety and freedom.


  3. Well and thoughtfully crafted.

    Best wishes on your new journey, sans medication. You sound like you are in the right place in your life to do it.

  4. Destiny, we have more in common than I realized, besides NH of course! I know what you mean about wanting to fix things but sometimes it is hard to know where to start. I have tried in many areas but you can only take so much outright rejection. There is no pain like it, really. And yes, having no home base any longer -- while we contributed to that by buying and then selling the family farm, it was gone before we bought it (figuratively speaking). We are probably all better off now in our own worlds and yet it pains me with envy to see other families get together no matter what and for whatever reason. There is nothing like family and so I hold tight to my own hive while being so blessed to have the friends that I do in the world! And I strive to be a matriarch in training. We need that kind of glue in a family, whether from a father or mother or grandparent.

    And hello Musical Gardener -- thanks, I think that we are!

  5. "The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists". ~William J. Clinton, 1997

  6. This was an absolutely beautiful post, really well written. I found the haiku most interesting as well.

  7. Very moving. I enjoyed your honesty and thoughtfulness in this post. Life sure is hard sometimes but if we can come out and find a way to be happy with the little things then we are so lucky.

  8. Thank you all and welcome here. Elaine, I appreciate what you said and I keep thinking about what Delores posted above: "We do what we can." (and for many reasons!) It should be an a bumper sticker.

    Meanwhile, no one gets to almost 50 without war wounds. I know it seems self-serving, perhaps, to muse about fracture family issues on such an occasion when people clearly suffered far more than most. But anniversaries always conjure up stuff, and 9-11 really was a pivotal time.

    But onward! And now to the Bartlett pears!

    Best, Catherine


Welcome to the farm! I hope you feel free to comment and share here. I will respond as often as I can.