Perfect Blue Sky

By Waldo Jaquith

The United States' sky was blue, perfectly blue. Empty, simple, clear, clean blue. Throughout the country, millions of people looked up at the sky on Tuesday to see the most perfect, cloudless sky that has existed for many, many years.

Except for over New York City. The sky over Manhattan was obscured by thick, black smoke and dust from the remains of the World Trade Center. They did not share our sky, and we did not share theirs.

The rest of us Americans shared something else, too: television. We spent hours glued to our televisions, placing panicked phones calls every few minutes to friends and family, not to share mutually-known news, but to share the thick silence of horror. Every station broadcast the latest news, without interruption. They all used a common title: "Attack on America," sparing us the usual battle over which network's tragedy-moniker will stick.

By afternoon, many of those that had remained home to watch the news realized that they needed some face time, and headed to the streets for some human contact. Those that had spent the day at work had gotten very little done, finding themselves a part of impromptu television communities in neighboring offices. It was, of course, all that anybody talked about. Strangers gathered on street corners, nodding acquaintances traded news tips, people sobbed and prayed on the sidewalk.

All beneath that perfect blue sky. With every last airplane in the United States resting safely on the tarmac, not a single contrail scarred our endless collective ceiling.

The blood drives started by mid-afternoon, setting up cots in office parks, buses, and abandoned shopping malls. The turnout was so tremendous that crowds of people were turned away, asked to return the next day to give of their blood.

Then there were the American flags. Where happy orange pumpkins and brown ice cream cones had flapped in front of homes and businesses, now crisp new star-spangled banners hung. On Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, four girls bearing carnations walked down the mall, offering bright yellow flowers to babies and businessmen, homeless women and waitresses. Nearly everybody in sight bore boutonnieres in their buttonholes, and it was impossible not to cry.

Late afternoon brought perhaps the most surreal event of the day. Congress assembled on the Capital steps and sang a verse of "God Bless America." Republicans, Democrats and Independents sang together, slightly off-key, unaccompanied by music. Under our great blue sky.

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(c) 2001, Waldo Jaquith

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