Isaiah’s chubby fingers fondled my neck as I strolled along the beach, my almost two-year-old riding behind in his blue backpack. The air suffused our skin with September warmth and the sky blanketed us in blue, the ocean reflecting its beauty with a peacefulness that would soon be shattered. Later, I would recall this tranquility and remember another day twelve years earlier when, like today, an unusual stillness had permeated the air as I took my lunchtime walk along the San Francisco waterfront. The bay had glistened calmly and the gulls were silent. The earth was holding its breath but we didn’t discern its foreboding. In a few short hours it would exhale a 7.1 Richter scale “OHM,” blowing buildings off their foundations and dangling cars and passengers beneath buckled bridges. This day would likewise bring a bustling city to its knees, forcing folks to shed their coats of isolationism and embrace one another like small-town neighbors seeking comfort and reassurance. But this day would not be defined by Mother Nature. This day would be remembered for Human Nature. And I was preoccupied by my own struggle with life and death.
I kissed my son’s fingers as the gentle Atlantic caressed her baby sands, the comforting weight of my chattering bundle an antidote for the loss of his brother, our ninth baby, due to arrive that very day but who had died mysteriously in March. I’d headed to the beach that morning to think about the short life held four months within the depths of my body and which remained in my soul, like a tiny shard of glass not yet tumbled smooth by time. I smiled at the glimmer of hope now known to me by flutter kicks in my womb and prayed all would go well this time. The gulls screamed overhead, sensing no earthly need for silence.
We concluded our walk and drove towards a doctor’s appointment with my radio tuned to its typical NPR, my meditation interrupted by breaking news unfolding a mere hundred miles away in Manhattan. I listened, stunned, as the familiar voice told how a plane was engulfing thousands in a jet-fueled hell while the beautiful blue day shone all around us. I called my husband who turned on the tv as another plane struck the second World Trade Tower. “People are jumping out of windows,” he said.
I continued driving to my appointment, life marching on for the rest of us. “Did you hear about New York?” I asked the ultrasound technician as she scanned my belly, casually chatting, not expecting any more disasters. I should have known better. My three-month-old swimmer had stopped kicking inside of me and now lay crumpled on the bottom of my womb. Like the day, we all finally became very still. Screaming gulls filled the void where a heart used to beat as people stepped out of windows, flying off to meet my baby.