The lights of September 11, 2001

By Bruce Stambaugh

My memories from September 11, 2001 are bathed in an emotional kaleidoscope of lights that seemed to guide me through that infamous day.
Sun rays by Bruce Stambaugh
The first light broke with the sunrise as I readied for work. I stood awestruck at the beauty that played out before me. The light from the morning sun glinted in bright shafts of beams through and around the leafy branches of the giant black oak tree directly across from our home. A misty ground fog was rising, reflecting and refracting light beams every which way.

The haze had dissipated and the sky turned pure sapphire by the time I reached my workplace. The sun had no competition now. The brightness of the crystal clear day buoyed me.

A lengthy phone call interrupted my regular startup office routine, which included turning on the radio. The caller went on and on, unnecessarily repeating point after point.

The second line on my phone rang. By the time I could rid myself of the windy caller, the other call had already gone into my voice mail.

Soon the little red light on the phone began to blink, the signal that I had a message. It was from our son, who lived and worked in New York City. Despite the passage of time, I can still distinctly hear his words.

“Dad,” Nathan’s message said, “Something has happened at the World Trade Center. We don’t have Internet or TV. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

I hung up and quickly turned on the radio. The first thing I heard was that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I bolted to the receptionist’s desk to find out what was happening. I was told that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City.

I tried to reach my son at his workplace, which was just south of Times Square. Neither his office phone nor cell phone would ring through. Fear gripped me.

Nathan's shadow by Bruce Stambaugh
Our son, Nathan, during a break while on a work project near San Marcos, Ocotopeque, Honduras

I went to a TV to watch what was happening. By then, the second tower had been hit, and reports were coming in of another plane down in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At 10:45 a.m., I was paged for a phone call. I picked up the line and it was my son.

“Dad,” he said trying to cover his anxiety, “I don’t know how I got a line out to you. I just wanted you to know that I’m OK but that Manhattan is locked down. No one is going in or out.”

Despite our mutual fears, an indescribable light of love connected my son and I through those phone wires. We spoke for about 10 minutes until Nathan said that others wanted to use his phone. By late afternoon we were calmed with the news that our son had safely returned to his apartment.
Holding hands by Bruce Stambaugh
At the end of that incredibly long, exhausting day another light shown. The live TV coverage broadcast a surreal scene. The evening’s sun filtered through the gray, smoldering debris at Ground Zero. A ghostly spire, all that structurally remained of the Twin Towers, reflected and refracted light beams eerily similar to those at the oak that morning. I hoped that some good could come of this horrific international catastrophe.

Now a decade removed, I still cling to that desire, though too many lives have had their own individual lights snuffed out. I long for the light of peace among all peoples, even if it means the need to share that light one person at a time.

A big day filled with colorful people and events

Sunrise on 201 by Bruce Stambaugh
Sunrise on CR 201.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Avid birders love to do Big Days. Big Days are when a group of dedicated birders sets a goal of seeing as many bird species as possible in a span of 24 hours.

I had a big day recently, too. My big day was a kaleidoscope of activities, some bright and cheery, others light and muted, and a few dark and fearsome. Knowing that this day’s lively landscape would also be an emotional roller coaster, my faithful wife held my hand all along the adventuresome path.

My shifting pattern of colors didn’t involve any feathers, however. Rather, the palette I experienced involved people and their comparative connectedness to me.

After breakfast, my wife and I headed into Berlin, Ohio considered by default the center of the largest Amish population in the world. I surprised Neva with a brief stop at the local coffee shop for mochas. She got decaf, but I needed some caffeine to get me through the day’s busy agenda.

Slurping our coffee, we headed up the stairs to our financial advisor. He wanted us to make some tweaks in some of our monetary investments. But you can only do so much with a $1.95.

From Ohio’s Amish Country, we were off to my hometown, Canton, to see my urologist for a consultation. The previous week I had had a biopsy for prostate cancer. This meeting alone would have qualified as it’s own big day.

But being the thrifty couple that we are, we packed the day with a purposeful assortment of activities and conversations. My good doctor got right to the point. He spent more than an hour with us, mostly reviewing the several choices for treating my cancer.

While the kindly doctor clearly itemized the wide range of options and their side effects for me, Neva furiously took notes. All the while my head swam. We set a follow-up date for deciding which procedure would be best for me, and we were off to our next encounter.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Neva and I each got a one-hour massage. I could actually feel the tension ooze out of my body, and my mind stopped racing about what I had just heard and anticipating what was to come for me.

I had a brief but important business appointment just down the road. With my mind clearer, the meeting went well.

From there, we delivered some furniture we no longer needed to one of Neva’s cousins, who lived just a few miles away. We made our delivery, visited a little and were off to our next rendezvous, dinner with my older brother and his wife.

The date with Craig and Shirley was well-timed, too. A year and a half earlier, Craig had had prostate surgery similar to what my doctor recommended for me. Over absolutely marvelous entrees, we casually discussed my brother’s procedure and other various maladies that seem to be dominating baby boomer lives more and more.

We skipped dessert, and walked a few hundred steps to our son and daughter-in-law’s lovely New York style loft on the square of Wooster, Ohio of all places. Craig and Shirley, whose youngest daughter lives in New York City, were mightily impressed with the stylish apartment and its accompanying minimalist furnishings.

On the 20-minute drive home, the color wheel of events of my big day flashed before me. So did the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead. But given the loving and colorful characters who surround me, I know all will be well no matter what.

Foggy sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
Life can be a little tangled and foggy sometimes, but the sun still shines.