lunes, septiembre 06, 2010

Holly Maurer, "Common Grounds"

Queridos, en la familia Maurer hay buenos escritores, y escritoras! Aquí va una reflexión de mi hermana adoptiva (no me gusta lo de cuñada) sobre la tragedia del once de setiembre. Está en inglés. No aconsejo que usen el traductor de google porque no oirían su voz. Sé que muchos de los lectores de este blog son bilingües. Va para vosotros!

Where Flight 93 went down: There's not much to see, but it's a good place to mourn
HOLLY MAURER-KLEIN visits on a stark winter's day.
Sunday, September 05, 2010

Windber in February is as cold as it sounds, midway between Somerset and Johnstown in southwestern Pennsylvania. I traveled the two hours there from Pittsburgh on Valentine's Day to see a prospective client, a quiet, middle-aged man in a cardigan sweater who runs a biotech company. We talked about the work, then his son's high school rifle team and his hobbies of hunting and fishing. When I mentioned that I had noticed the signs for the United Flight 93 site on my way and thought of stopping, he nodded. "I live just about a mile and half from there. Not much to see."

He looked down at the papers on his desk and changed the subject. It felt as if a warning light had softly begun blinking, reminding me to tread carefully. When I was younger, I defiantly marched into such danger zones; I am more cautious now.

I was 11 when my mother died. My attempts to talk to my four brothers and father about her death drives them further away, not closer.
At 52, my grief still feels awkward, shameful, like I'm carrying around a big salty vat of water that spills over at inconvenient moments. But the tears are like warm water on ice, carving a shortcut to a place inside myself that is hard to reach by any other route. Sometimes I look for ways to get there.
That may be why, when I started for home on the empty "Flight 93 Memorial Highway" I decided to take the detour, despite some doubts: The sun was sinking in the late afternoon sky; the road was icy; I definitely was wearing the wrong shoes. And I felt a little uncertain about my wish to see the site. Was I intruding, once again, on a private grief?

Tiny blue signs pointed the way, encouraging me. Three more miles on Route 30. Two more on Lambertsville Road. I expected to see billboards, snack shops or some sort of tourist information, but there was only a quiet landscape -- not even a lively gas station, just closed up nurseries and farms, cattle and hemlocks, everything asleep.
A final sharp turn onto Skyline Drive, then the van wheels crunched on the gravel path, silence and snow on either side. An empty pick-up truck was parked at the top of the hill, next to surveyor's equipment. Over the crest, just below: a row of flags, a hut and a parking lot.
With a nod to the two visitors who left as I arrived, I trudged through the snow to the edge of the field, my heart pounding. Wooden benches faced the empty field, too, their seats covered with snow, a passenger's name engraved on each seat back.
Flags snapped over my head. A porta-potty lay on its side, tossed over by the wind. A section of chain link fence rose high above the rows of benches, covered with newspaper articles in plastic, hand-made plaques from local fire companies, veterans' groups and military units.
There were coins and talismans on the posts and on a few stone memorials that were now half-covered by the snow, to let the dead know someone had been here and to make the living feel less alone. There weren't as many pink ribbons and teddy bears as flags and caps. Men had mourned here.
Somehow, it worked. The little gestures were random and haphazard. There were no headphones, no signs, no pictures to tell the story. But I could feel compassion and love, sorrow and hope. It was moving, what people had done to make themselves quietly feel better.
A park ranger in uniform, wearing a puffy jacket and a warm hat with flaps, put down his snow shovel and stood at ease to welcome me to this house on a hill in the middle of this land owned by a coal company.
"Well, hello," I say awkwardly. "Pretty quiet here today?" I fumble for words. In my short coat and high heels, I feel out of place.
"Yes, it's a slow day. It gets this way this time of year. Not like summer." He waited.
"Such a strange place. So peaceful."
"Yes, it sure is."
I read the visitors book while he stands by. Just names of people and places, nothing more.
"It feels good to get warm in here."
"Yup, sure does. It gets pretty toasty."
Another pause.
"Is there any way to tell what happened when you look out there?"
"Well, everything was gone, you know, completely, when the plane landed," he explains. "The field burned. They finally removed all the debris, and the burned trees. The only thing you can see, really, any more, is that line of hemlocks with the bottoms burned off. Since they were exposed after they grew, the bottom of those trees will never grow back. Can you see them?"
I peer out toward the field. I can't see anything.
"And there's that fence. That went up first, to kind of define the area that was off limits. You can just see it if you look closely." He stands a little closer and points over my shoulder. We look together, although I can't see the fence, either, through the murky plastic window of the hut.
He shows me the official cockpit voice recorder transcript in a three-ring binder; the script is hard to understand with lots of "indistinguishable noise" and "unintelligible" notations; you can't really tell much. There's no record of the cell phone conversations that tell the rest of the story of what happened that day.
"Are you here all the time?" I wonder.
"No, just when they need me. Normally there are volunteers. They work two-hour shifts. Local people."
"Really? Volunteers still come?"
"You know how windy this place gets, and how cold -- we're on high ground, you know. For a few years before the Park Service took this over, they stood out there in the cold for two hours; even on Christmas and New Year's. I can't even imagine what that must have been like. Now at least they have a place to stay warm. I help when they can't be here, like now."
I thank him, take one of the brochures neatly stacked on the counter and say good-bye, awkwardly. It is time to re-enter my life, but I am not in a hurry. I want to stay in this place, where reminders of death and destruction are gently disappearing, where the simple ritual of keeping watch and remembering somehow make the horror of that day more bearable.
It seems like some wise part of our psyche is telling us to wait a while, to let the sun and the air in before we bind up the wounds. In the meantime, we do small things that help. Clear away the debris. Build a fence around a field. Let the grass grow. Plans are in the works to build a memorial. He showed me a picture of a walkway and a monument and a row of trees; nothing fancy. But I'm glad I came now.
He follows me out and starts to sweep the snow off the wooden path. Our feet crunch in the crisp, silent air. I give him a wave and climb back into my van, head home to my family, glad to be silent. I feel like I went to a funeral alone and ran into a friend. It feels like mourning. It feels like healing.

Holly Maurer-Klein owns a local employment consulting firm and lives in Squirrel Hill ( She is working on a memoir.

19 comentarios:

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Andrea dijo...

Interesante. Yo creía que nadie se acordaba ya de ese avión con pasajeros tan valientes. Gracias chiqui y gracias a Holly . Siento no poder contestar en inglés.

tu prima dijo...

Aunque vivido de lejos, pero a la vez tan cercano, retransmitido en tiempo real, resultó tan sobrecogedor y trágico, que todavía me resulta penoso recordar lo que debió ser para las personas a las que les afectó de lleno. Supongo que nunca, ninguno de nosotros lo podrá olvidar. Desgraciadamente.

Anónimo dijo...

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Great story. On the flip side of respect and dignity, I was amazed when I drove by the site that pro-life activists were using the tragedy to further their message via this insane billboard:

Tadeusz dijo...

This is a very moving piece that captures both the physical and the spiritual landscape.

Bill dijo...

Chiqui, thanks for sharing this extraordinarily poignant piece, which brings out the loneliness of the spot where the palne went down and reminds me of the desolation of the survivors.

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