When the time on her phone showed the bus was 5 minutes late, she looked for an open bench. In all her 23 years of experience, city buses achieving 5 minutes of lateness, were doomed to be very late indeed. Might as well get comfortable.
She exchanged smiles with an elderly man as she joined him on a nearby bench. A sharp fall wind blew across their faces and bared it’s winter teeth.
Across the street, atop a city cafe, an American flag was whipped by the gust.
He spoke first, “Good to see it fly. And the wind is ok. It’s seen worse.
She nodded, glancing at him, pulling an ear bud out as she did,”It sure has.”
He said, “In fact, I remember one time I found a flag. It was so tattered..but they took it from me..said they would hang it high, make sure it could be seen. They said, said it mattered, you know? That it still be flying. ‘Crushed but not buried’ they said.”
She nodded, again, “I remember. I remember how much it mattered that day. That ‘our flag was still there.'” She sang the notes from the National Anthem and they seemed to hang, suspended, in the autumn air.
“What a horrible morning. I remember it so clearly. I can’t forget. The smoke and the noise. How short a time it was and, yet, I thought it would never end.” His eyes were on the flag, lost in the memories.
She turned from him, back to the flag and spoke, “It was the worst morning, I know. The airplanes. They just came. And it changed. And we didn’t know. We didn’t know how many..”
He picked up her sentence where she had left it, “-how many more? And how could we? We had no idea it was coming. The war had come to us, I guess. It just flew itself right to our doorstep.”
She spoke slowly, “Wars don’t usually start with the counting of bodies in the thousands, do they? Thousands. Just – gone.”
“Gone,” he repeated, “one minute, thousands of Americans started their days, healthy and whole, but then they were dead. It was just a regular day.”
“And it’s like everything changed. We were still America but now we acted like we knew it. Like a lion, woken up. And then the fighting started,” she was almost tripping over her own words now, having only just realized how much she needed to get them out, “and so many joining up, so many went to fight, and more loss.. It felt like it wouldn’t end. Still hasn’t really..”
They were distracted for a moment by the opening of the cafe door. Two young girls made their way inside, laughing, heads bent together over an iPhone.
“They don’t know. They don’t get it,” she said.
“They might. I pray they don’t. But they may, still..” his voiced trailed off.
“I lost my dad that day. He was in the South Tower. I was 8,” she said quietly.
“September 11th,” he spoke it as more statement than question.
“9-11,” she confirmed.
After a moment, he spoke again, “I lost my dad around that age, too. He was a Lieutenant on the Arizona. We had moved to a base in Hawaii that winter. ”
“Pearl Harbor?” she whispered.
In the distance, the familiar sounds of a diesel engine.
“This is my ride,” she said.
“I should go too,” he placed his cane in front of him.
And his hand reached for the worn handle of his cane – finding its familiar, steadying support.
And her hand reached to cover his worn one – finding it familiar somehow, and steadying.
For a moment, they were not separated by 70 years of history. They were Americans and comrades and kindreds.
History is neither new nor old.
It is both now and then.
May we never be so removed that we forget, and may we never be too young to remember.