Byrd's Words

"This is not meant to offend or convert anyone.
Take what you want and ignore the rest."
— Byrd

October 4, 2001


by byrd tetzlaff

It has been a little over three weeks since the attack on the World Trade Center. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed. Everything and nothing is the same.

I am here, a few hundred miles away from the WTC and the Pentagon. I am blessed. The folks whom I knew in New York and kept in touch with are all safe. I wonder about those I did not keep in touch with. I will never know how many of them were in harm's way.

In the fall of the year, allergies get to me. My eyes itch and hurt and it feels like I have been crying. I cannot remember if I took an allergy pill this morning or not. I dare not risk taking another, so my eyes will just have to wait until either the pills start to work or it becomes clear that I have indeed forgotten to take them. My nose is stuffed up, too, so breathing is difficult.

My husband has taken a part-time job tutoring with the local school system. We live in a small community where change is slow. But this year the schools have a new problem. It seems they have two sisters who speak only Spanish, with little or no understanding of English. They have been thrown into High School and expected to grasp the material taught in a language not their own. Michael, who speaks fluent Spanish, has been helping them, but he only comes in for two hours a week. I marvel at a School Board who think that two hours a week is enough for those kids to catch up with all their classes.

I do not think the isolation which has kept this community from dealing with differences will continue. I remember years ago, when I was in school in another part of the country. In my Junior year, there were two Spanish families in our school. By the next year, we had 40 Spanish families. We didn't cope as well as we could have. I fear this area is about to repeat the mistakes.

Michael is doing what he can for two children who are feeling out of place. I know Michael. He jokes with them, helps them get the difficult concepts and explains American cultural vagaries. He does what he can to make it safe for them.

Safe, in a world where people fly airplanes into buildings.

Yesterday, Michael received a letter from his mother, who lives in central America. She wrote about an outing she recently took to a local Butterfly Farm and she included a flyer for the farm.

A Butterfly Farm. What a wonderful idea! Open air, wild butterflies, clouds and clouds of wild butterflies. I fantasize about a certain three-year-old and her mother, walking in a tropical landscape with butterflies all about, landing on shoulders and out-stretched fingers. I can almost hear the delighted laughter.

I cherish the vision.

The weather is turning crisp. A few feckless leaves have already begun to show signs of aging. The Morning Glories are smaller than they were last week, but they still show a brave face to the world, decorating stationary objects and making them beautiful.

Alice and Scottie love to go out and romp in the cooler weather. They are much relieved over the release from endless heat. The grass is far too tall in the back yard, so when the dogs go running, they cannot always be seen, but the fence keeps them safe, away from traffic and other dangers.

Yesterday, though, Alice left the yard. She ended up sitting on the front porch, grinning and terribly proud of her cleverness at having found a way out. She was glad to see me when I returned, but underlying the usual gladness was something else: fear. I took her into the house, but she was obviously nervous, very nervous and relieved I was home so she could feel safe. I heard noises in the back of the house so I decided to investigate.

The City had decided to remove the small apartment building in back of us, so it was being torn down. The noise was loud, rubble was everywhere, as was the dust. I saw the dogs and for one moment realized how scarry it must have been for them. After all, this yard and our house are their world. And that apartment building has been a boundary on that world for all of their lives. Their safe, dependable world was being ripped away. Strange men and new sounds, the smells of concrete dust and loud crashes. As I stood there with the dogs, a wall fell. Dust and rubble filled our eyes and ears. The sound was deafening.

For a moment, I had a brief and small (very, very small) idea of what it must have been like in New York three weeks ago.

I remembered that right near the WTC were places that people lived. Apartments filled with all the things folks have in a city. Like pets. Lots of pets, shut away, trapped, as the WTC fell. I can only imagine the terror those pets must have felt as the dust turned day into night and breathing became hard, as the sound of the very sky falling in engulfed them, alone in the dark. Owners who never came home.

I, as a human, can on some level understand what has happened. On another level, I have no understanding at all. It is inconceivable to me. I can only dimly touch what it must have been like for those who lived it: The men and women. The children in a nearby school. The parrot in one apartment, the dog and cat in the next, suddenly the world was falling apart, and they were alone. The utter, utter terror.

I heard somewhere that a few days after the attack, some New Yorkers went into the nearby buildings to rescue the animals whose owners would never return. I shudder to think what maddness they found.

Alice leaned against me, reminding me that I was safe. Not in New York, but in my own yard, merely watching a building being demolished.

I remember that when the WTC was being built, someone speculated what would happen when it came time for the building to be demolished. After all, we had never tried to take down a skyscraper, we weren't sure what would happen. I silently blessed the Architects and Engineers who built the WTC. They did good. It fell straight down, not lengthwise. Thank God.

Alice pawed me and I saw a butterfly land nearby on a broken piece of concrete. A Butterfly. I thought briefly of the butterfly farm, but another thought tugged at me. Ah yes, now I remember.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the Author of the Death and Dying movement, told of visiting the Death camps in Europe years after WWII was over. She wrote that the experience had been horrid beyond belief. The piles of glasses and shoes, a heap of braids cut from dead women, all testifying to the unmitigated horrors the owners had experienced. The prisoners had left semi-mute records of their lives by carving things into every surface imaginable. Initials, short phrases, like "remember me," were carved in bed boards, doorways, even fence posts.

But there was also a single recurring symbol. A butterfly. Everywhere, carvings of butterflies, over names, on the underneath of bunk beds, on floorboards. Butterflies. Elizabeth wrote that as she watched, she saw a single butterfly gracefully light on a piece of barbed wire.

Butterflies and barbed wire. An incongruous pairing.

I watched my butterfly, the one on the concrete, sunning itself. It seemed to be taking in the very glory of being alive.

There are butterflies in New York, too, butterflies that land on jagged parts of a building. Butterflies that sit on a broken dream.

I turned back to the house, softly herding the dogs back, assuring them they were OK. There would be light now, where before was a brick wall. Some plants would now take root because of the new sunlight. Others would be burned away. Things would change, but we would go on. Some things would be the same, but our vision of them would be different.

The dogs entered the house and lay down with heavy sighs, glad to be home. I watched them curl up for a nap. I think on the day, pondering. There is something new in me.

In my heart I now carry the memory of a butterfly on a broken piece of concrete.

So Be It.

Byrd Tetzlaff
© October 2001 All Rights Reserved

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