Posts in In Memoriam
9/11 Pentagon Photos: This Was Tough to Read.

It has been more than 15 years since the 9/11 attacks in New York, and Washington D.C. Of course in the years since then there have been documentaries, coffee table books, countless photo sites and blog posts - perhaps even to the extent that we've grown used to seeing the photos of mounds of rubble, of first the search and then the recovery at the World Trade Center, and those terrible, terrifying video clips of the plane that hits the second tower, and the first tower itself collapsing. I think for those of us who were alive on 9/11 those Twin Tower images have become like an annual pilgrimage, brought out once a year to be reflected on. 

9/11 Twin Towers: Well Documented

For my part, those video clips are burned in memory, and I will never, as long as I live, forget what it felt like to see that.  You don't have to, of course, but here is a vid you can watch to remember. 

The events of September 11, 2001, arranged into a news narrative, as they unfolded live on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, BBC, and Sky News. Also included are notable excerpts from the FAA and NORAD audiotapes, a 9-1-1 call to a New York City dispatcher, and a portion of the recording from United Airlines Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder.

My little sister was serving an LDS mission in New York City on 9/11, and I clearly remember the wait through all that day before we were able to find out that she had been in White Plains and was safe. So relieved. Surely nobody from our little town of 1200 in Southeast Idaho would have been anywhere near there. In one respect I was right - as far as I know, nobody I knew was directly involved in New York City on 9/11. But in another, I was very wrong, because New York wasn't the only place attacked that day.

9/11 Pentagon

I clearly remember getting a phone call from my mom that my friend Brady Howell had been killed at the Pentagon that Tuesday.

At the time, and since then, I think that perhaps the Pentagon attack has been a bit of a footnote. Partly, of course, that's because so many more people lost their lives, and so much more was utterly laid waste in New York City that day. And I think partly it's because many of the photos and footage were held out from release by the government. It is the headquarters of the defense department, after all. 

The Pentagon memorial has long since been built. Brady's name is remembered on a plaque and inscribed on one of the benches in the Pentagon memorial.

But I think that very lack of photo and video media is partially to blame for the nearly forgotten Pentagon attack - why it is so often only a footnote in our annual 9/11 pilgrimage. And maybe that's why this CNN article, that the FBI finally released 9/11 Pentagon photographs hit me so hard.

I've had long years and my own annual pilgrimages through photos and videos from New York City to process. But these new Pentagon photos bring back the rawness of learning that my own friend was lost. This photo in particular, makes my heart squeeze, and the tears fall on my hands as I write:

The two men holding flags in the foreground are obviously soldiers, simply by the way they are standing. They represent the earliest honor guard, the truest military measure of respect for fallen soldiers, as lost colleagues and friends - my friend - are found and pulled free in the rubble behind them. 

In the intervening years since these terrible, terrifying, heartbreaking photos were taken - since my friend Brady died - trapped somewhere in that very rubble in the photo above - I've had two gorgeous children, lived a life of such richness and meaning that, if I had been killed in 2001, I never would have known.

I've had 16 extra years on Earth, to explore and learn and savor, to read stories with and snuggle my little sleepy ones. To hold hands with my sweetheart. To stand in awe of so many blessings. And yes, to weep and grieve and pray for peace and relief when none seemed to come. But to live.

Today I'll look at the photos (most of which are in the CNN article above) and grieve some, yes. And I shared them here so that maybe a few others who need to grieve can, too. But I'll also simply be grateful to God for my 16 extra years, and for the time right now to be up and doing. Earth is a blessing. Life is a blessing. And the measure of our gratitude for it is how we spend that time.

-JS

In Memoriam: Elie Wiesel

This is the Instagram feed for #eliewiesel as it is going on right now. So cool. 

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Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, memoirist, professor, and humanitarian, died on July 2. His masterpiece is his memoir of his experience in two different concentration camps during World War II. If you haven't read it yet, or lately, I recommend it. 

I first read "Night" by Elie Wiesel in my high school English class. I grew up in a very small town (of 1200) in the middle of Idaho, and this was the first time I ever remember being punched breathless by a book. At 15, I couldn't EVER have imagined that there had been a horror like this in human history. It widened my world, changed me, haunts me to this day, and I will love my teacher forever for giving me that experience. I will love this book forever for that, too - in that "thanks for the hard lesson and for returning me a handful of my own teeth" kind of way. 

Elie Wiesel died yesterday, and I think the celebration - the mourning of his passing, yes - but the celebration of his eloquence and the weight of his words because of the horror he suffered is a perfect counterpoint to the celebrations we're having this weekend for Independence Day. "Night" is one of the supreme accounts of the Holocaust, and the lifetime of humanitarian work and speaking out for the silent and suffering he spent after his experience is what we can remember. That we must never allow human beings to be treated like this again. 

There are millions of people on earth RIGHT NOW who - while not being herded into camps to die - are running for their lives from hatred, oppression, and war. Are being turned away at the doors of country and city and state. 

We say this weekend, "Let Freedom Ring," and we relish the victory here in our own country. That freedom has its costs (you know, so every jerk with a megaphone can say whatever he wants, right? But so can I, and that's what matters). NO PRICE is too high to pay so that all the world might join us in celebration of freedom - from war, from oppression, from terror. 

In remembrance of Elie Wiesel and our commitment to honor the humanity of every human being, maybe we could do a little something extra this weekend - a little donation to humanitarian relief, a little love for the people around us who are different, a little more love for that flag of freedom, a little longer on our knees in prayer for the silent and suffering. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Wiesel. At long last, be at peace.

Farewell, David Bowie.

In Memoriam

David Robert Jones | David Bowie
1947-2016

I wasn't even alive when David Bowie first got started. - he was, after all, my parents' age. I was in high school when Changesbowie came out (1990), and it was on permanent repeat (or the analog version of it, since it was a cassette) for months. My best friend Share and I pretty much wore that thing out, interspersed with Billy Idol and the soundtrack to Lost Boys, during the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years. 

That the album itself was a compilation of earlier music was lost on me, despite the album cover showing so many of his varied personae: 

He was beautiful and theatrical and strange, thin like Jack Pumpkinhead from Nightmare Before Christmas, and with an impossibly haunting high-low voice. I would catch glimpses in magazines of the pink hair, the shadowy makeup, the sculptural or strange or barely-there clothing. This was Sugar City, Idaho, now. People wear regular clothes, not crazy clothes. Boys don't wear makeup, or a pink wig that was possibly not even a wig. We don't do things that are weird, and it is not ok to be weird.

Trouble was, in my little town of 1200, in 1990, I WAS weird. Angry and lost and weird. And hell, I thought his pink possibly-not-a-wig was amazing. His androgyny was alluring, and scary to me for its allure.

Changesbowie was ABOUT change, in a time when I myself was changing. He was a master of invention, and every song on this album was different because each was a snapshot in time of an ultimate musical chameleon. And that voice. How could such a voice - so gorgeously and hugely glam, turn dance-pop in Let's Dance, and haunting in Space Oddity, and never sound inauthentic?

Because he - at least what we all believe is the real he, really was all those things. Theatricality and complexity, showmanship without self-aggrandization, earnestness and unresolved feeling and that body and makeup captivating like an otherworldly sculpture. 

I've been reading a lot about him today. And remembering that within a few years of the first time I was singing along to Changes:

“Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Oh look out now you rock and rollers
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”

And belting the gorgeous chorus of "Let's Dance":

If you say run, I'll run with you
If you say hide, we'll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower
Let's dance
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,

I myself would be turning to face strange changes he was only hinting about. I, who didn't even OWN a pair of red shoes, would indeed learn what it means to dance the blues - that it would be a lifelong dance (maybe danced to Space Oddity, even, because if you really listen, WOW.). And yes, of course, I would need red shoes for it. (I own 3 pairs now, btw).

I especially enjoyed this New York Times article about him. 

Can You Hear Me, Major Tom?

I guess I was as shocked as everyone that he suddenly dropped an album after seeming to disappear for so many years. What! A new Bowie album. And then to find out this morning that this gift of new music would be (as he knew) his parting gift to the world.

I think his most haunting song for me is Space Oddity. That crazy slant-harmony, and the bittersweet ending, with the anxiety and peace and not-quite knowing what happened. Beautiful. Here's the original:

And here is the first music video ever recorded in space, Space Oddity by Commander Chris Hadfield, aboard the ISS.

The stars look very different today, Major Tom. 

"The Stars Look Very Different Today"   Cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz, New Yorker

"The Stars Look Very Different Today"

Cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz, New Yorker

Put On Your Red Shoes

Changesbowie was one of my growing-up albums, and in some ways, he was the alter-ego to what I had around me. His message to me was that it's ok to be absolutely, wildly, creatively, boldly YOURSELF - seeing layers of joy and sadness and future and past and what could be, with a little loneliness, yes. But with an acceptance that your very strangeness is what makes you. That complex emotion is ok. That it's ok to earnestly be and think and believe and relish a million things authentically. That reality is our own to make, if we can envision it. And that if we want to wear red shoes, we should damn well wear them.

In Memoriam: Brady Howell

I made a promise to myself, in memory of my friend Brady, that I would blog about him on September 11 every year. It's so hard to imagine that the world has been so long without his quick wit and winning smile. I 've missed a couple. But here is 2006, 2007, 2008

He was a great guy - one of those guys that is friends with everyone, and not a single person could find anything negative to say about him-except that maybe he laughed too loud, and was in on too many of the pranks (until he became Student Body President my senior year of high school).

He was my semi-distant relative: our great-grandfathers were brothers - his mom's maiden name is Bills and so is mine. We used to joke that we could never date because it'd be against the law. We still went out a few times, and hung out together with friends all the time.

He was a great singer. I remember at the mission farewell of a friend, that he and a group sang "Abide with Me, Tis Eventide" - all four parts, a capella. It was so gorgeous, and 20+ years later I still remember it.

At his own mission farewell (Elder Howell went to the Canary Islands - how unfair is that?), that the closing song he chose was, "God Be With You Til We Meet Again" and many times when I hear or play that song I think about Brady.

And mostly he was my friend. Mostly I will miss him, and the world is poorer that he is gone. 

And mostly I will never forget that he was murdered. 

Relatively speaking (say, a human lifetime), it has been a long time since the original September Eleventh. My kids weren't even born yet, and they are in 5th and 6th grade now. But in the scope of human experience we were attacked on our own soil like an hour ago. It'll be a day when the world changed for all of us - a true day of terror. A day that was the beginning of the war that still goes on, and might go on forever (who can say?).

Every single person who was alive that day and anywhere in America remembers that day. And I am posting in memory of my friend Brady, who was in his office, at his post in Naval Intelligence in the Pentagon, when the unimaginable happened. When his good and decent and influential and important life (just like the lives of all the victims) was suddenly snuffed out. 

Please take a second today in silence to remember the lives of all those - victims and families and rescuers - who are so deeply affected by this act of terror. It's important that we never, ever forget.

And YOU may contribute a verse.
Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Just now. Like, five minutes ago, I was shocked out of my bloggy silence by the news of the death of Robin Williams. I know, people - and even celebrities - die all the time. But this one, this news? Was the signal that I really need to end the silence I've held here for so long.

It isn't that I haven't thought about writing here in my blog. It's been my journal for years. It isn't as though I haven't laughed at something or thought of something and thought - I should ... but for all this time it hasn't gotten further than that. 

Confession: I've been hiding. 

Granted, lots of things have been going on this summer - with getting the kids out of school, the agonizing experience of selling our cute house (44 showings. That's right. 44.) Organizing endless repairs. Visiting grandparents in Idaho and Oregon for 2 1/2 weeks. Finding a new house to move to. Getting the kids settled into their new year-round school. Trying to make a list of all the stuff we have to do before we close on August 28 (my birthday!). And pain. And the always, always tiredness.

Whether they're reasons for silence, or excuses, the fact still remains: I've been hiding. It's so much easier to just disappear, don't you think? You don't have to talk to anyone, be responsible to anyone, and if you set no goals and account to no one, you don't have to face failure. Oh, failure and guilt niggle in the back of the mind, of course, but if you hide, nobody can see. And if you don't blog, you don't have to think about it.

Part of this has been the confusion and turmoil of slowing down teaching classes at JessicaSprague.com. If I am not this anymore (or not all the time), then what am I

Cue identity crisis. The resulting tailspin. The desire-and-yet-not-motivated-enough-to-overcome-the-fear of finding (creating?) something new in myself put on hold over and over again. And instead of facing the lack of answers with humility and care, cue hiding. From you. From myself. A lot of knitting. A lot of Sudoku. And a lot less introspection.

And then, (Mr. Keating) Mr. Williams. And one clear call for me. 

Is there anyone here who saw Dead Poets Society and whose life wasn't changed forever? I know Robin was talented (they're saying it all over the world now). And I know he played other roles. But his performance as Mr. Keating changed me. He was Mr. Keating, he inhabited that role. And as terrible as it is, his death made me remember: 

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 

How, in the face of this, can I stay silent? How can I keep from singing?

I've only got a bit, a little bit of life (relatively speaking) - to be on the stage, and I've been pretending I don't exist, hoping that people forget and don't look for me too closely. Well, just like always, no matter what I've ever done, there comes the point where I can't pretend anymore. Where the words and thoughts, the beauty and poetry and patterns and photographs and fonts have build such a pressure behind my heart I have to let them out, have to write it or glue it or cut it or edit it in Photoshop. Have to make the marks. Risky business, that. But it is the creative life. It demands attention, and it can never be completely ignored. (And I'm not the only one, mama: you feel it too, don't you? And if you ever doubt, please watch this video. As many times as you need to. Take two, call me in the morning.

And so I'm called up by this today, called to come back to the creative well and dip in again:

You are here ... life exists, and identity; ... the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. ... The powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

After so long afraid of whatever the answer to this might be (or maybe even more afraid that I actually had no answer), I've decided I don't care. Doesn't have to be great or grandiose, or even worthy (this whole idea that what we write has to be worthy of a post has held a lot of us back, hasn't it?) It does have to be spelled right, and it does have to be honest and earnest. here I am.

Whew.

This is one of those “I’m here!” posts that you probably won’t have any idea how to respond to. I’m considering not writing it, but I need to update from out of the swirl of events here, if for no other reason that making lists is head-clearing. :) I feel I’m awash in a tide of bittersweet Time in the events of the past few days, and in learning to accept change and let go.

Rowen had her Assessment Day at kindergarten yesterday. Jared and I both went, and pulled around (in the carpool line! an alternate universe!), and the teacher opened the car door, and helped her out, and led her inside. Better that it was quick, since it wasn’t really the Official First Day, right? And all day yesterday, I kept starting up and saying, “Where’s Rowen?” before almost immediately remembering she was at school. At school! It was like my heart went wandering - I could almost physically feel the tug. Ele and I went to pick her up at 2:00 and we went for ice cream. I asked her about her day, and she showed me the papers she had made. They were testing her on things like writing her name, coloring, cutting, tracing, and she had done well. But the weirdest? I asked her what she chose for her school lunch, and she said, “I had pink milk, and a hamburger, and peaches and pears.” She is making her own choices about FOOD! Without me there to say, no, let’s not have 7 desserts today. And she did pretty well, I think. She starts school as an official Kindergartener on Monday. Time. Washing over me. And the bitterly sweet feeling of opening my arms to let go.

Tomorrow’s my birthday, which I only mention here because I get a new purse and possibly a date with my honey. I somehow still feel 25, so some OTHER lady must be having a birthday tomorrow, that isn’t me. Couldn’t be me. Time. And the sweet satisfaction of utter denial. ;)

And lastly and most sad, my dad called today to tell me that my dear Grandma Bills, my last living grandparent, passed on into Eternity early this morning. It wasn’t unexpected - her health had been failing in the past few weeks, and she was ready to go. So my sadness here is only to lose one of the great Trees of my life - one of those monumental figures that I learned from, and respected, and admire so much. I grew up living next door to them, and she taught me about cooking and sewing, and showed me by her faithful example what real-life love and determination are. She had been a school teacher, and was a legend among my high school friends for being the absolute toughest second-grade teacher imaginable. I will always love that about her. I feel Time washing over me. And the bitterly sweet feeling of opening my arms to let go. I’m kind of too raw tonight to do a long memorial of her, but I do think that my Grandpa, who passed in 2005, came to greet her and escort her Home, and the thought of them reuniting with the love of their lives for all eternity brings me some great comfort.

Grandma’s funeral is in Idaho, of course - on Monday, the day that Rowen begins Kindergarten. As I talked to my dad today, he said, “Grandma of all people would tell you that you belong with your girl on her first day of school. Don’t worry about missing her service.”

So suddenly, sitting here tonight, I’m not immortal, and not immune to change and the progression of days and weeks that have somehow become years. Suddenly I’m hard up against Middle Age, and my little baby girl that I just held in my arms is starting school, and the last living grandparent has departed this life. I suddenly look up and glance around, a little bewildered, wondering how this happened? Suddenly my mission of the past few years since becoming a scrapbooker, to savor and save, becomes more immediate and more real.  Not from the fear of losing the beauty of today, but so that tomorrow, when today is gone, there is the looking back that gives the courage to turn and look ahead again. That’s all I’ve got for tonight. Savor and save.

In Memory: President Gordon B. Hinckley.
gbhbom_medium.jpg

gbhbom_medium.jpg

What do you say when a great man dies?

President Gordon B. Hinckley, age 97, Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away last night, after 13 years as head of the Church. I remember the day he became President (spring 1995, I was in my 2nd year of college and sitting, of all places, in the medical center at BYU when the news came over the TV). And I remember last night about 11 p.m. when I sat down on the couch, opened my laptop, and read it on Yahoo news. One of those things that you mark down in memory forever.

I could mention, like the news media are mentioning - how many miles he traveled, his accomplishments, or basic facts about his life. All good. All important. But more important is what he meant to people, as a leader and an example. And what really matters, to me, anyway, is that his words, his earnestness, his humility, and his unfailing devotion never fail to make me want to be better. How can the value of such a person be overstated? 

We have a song that begins like this:

We thank thee, O God, for a Prophet,

To guide us in these latter days.

And truly, that’s what it has been. Guidance, sure and unyielding - hope, and comfort (he was the prophet, during the dark days just after September 11, 2001), encouragement, new resolve to do better, to be better, to have faith and just get to work (he was the prophet when I was a missionary). And all of it delivered plainly and humbly.

He

adored

his wife - and I always thought this was one of his most beautiful qualities. In the October conference of 2004, six months after the passing of his wife of 67 years, Marjorie, he said with a cracking voice,

As I held her hand and saw mortal life drain from her fingers, I confess I was overcome. Before I married her, she had been the girl of my dreams, to use the words of a song then popular. She was my dear companion for more than two-thirds of a century, my equal before the Lord, really my superior. And now in my old age, she has once again become the girl of my dreams.

I’ll echo many of the blog posts I’m reading today in saying that it’s a comfort to know he’s gone home to join her again.

Typical of his plainspoken and humble ways, in October 2006, at the age of 96, he prefaced his talk in the LDS general conference with a little discussion of some healh problems he’d had, and then said this:

The Lord has permitted me to live; I do not know for how long. But whatever the time, I shall continue to give my best to the task at hand.

He was the grandson of Mormon pioneers, and so often included stories in his talks. In the same October 2006 talk - a great lecture on faith- he told two unforgettable stories, one a story of the great faith of the Mormon pioneers in the Willie and Martin handcart companies, crossing the plains too late in the season, and getting caught in a terrible blizzard, from which they were rescued by help coming from Salt Lake. And the other, a story of great faith on a much smaller scale, of a widow, his wife’s grandmother, who had lost her wedding ring and prayed to find it.

Why does this one stick out to me above all the others, all the years of great talks and stories? I don’t know, but it does. His final thought in this talk:

Such faith is the wellspring of activity. It is the root of hope and trust. It is this simple faith that all of us so much need.

Maybe that’s why. So much could be accomplished with a little more faith. Sometimes life is incredibly complex, and full of noise and distraction and competing priorities, and sometimes sadness and difficulty and despair. But truly, perhaps a little more simple faith is what we need. At 97, having lived so exemplary, he has gone home to God, to his wife’s side, to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob among the great prophets of the earth, the Church rolls on and a new prophet will be called. And above all this, his simple faith, centered on the Savior Jesus Christ, lives on in all the lives he touched. What more can be said of a man than that?

Feel free to leave thoughts here or link up your blog if you’ve written. 

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Because I Made a Promise

I don’t know if it’s just because I spent the day working here at home, or if there is just much less being said, but I didn’t hear much about the fact that it’s September 11 today. Maybe it feels like everything that could be said has been said, and we have only to roll our eyes impatiently at the cliches.

Well, I have nothing new to say. But I’ll recap my memory of the day anyway. 

Six years ago today, I had just arrived at work, and was getting my computer started when a co-worker of mine said in kind of a bemused voice, (I’ll never forget this as long as I live) “Hey, a little plane just hit the World Trade Center. Here it is on CNN.com.”

We went over to her desk and looked over her shoulder at a still photo of a smoking hole in one of the towers. We were thinking to ourselves, maybe that wasn’t a little plane. Those are BIG towers…

That was the last moment of peace and innocence I remember before the events began to unfold. The second plane hit while we watched on CNN.com. After that, we knew it was serious.

We all went out to the TV hung on the wall in the lounge, about 30 or 35 of us standing or sitting, looking up at the TV as the newscasts rolled. So many people were crying. So many others just sat there, stunned. And then the first heart-rending collapse. The immense cloud of smoke and dust and the fear that rolled outward with it. The awful sound of the commentators’ voices as their hearts failed them. I remember someone screaming.

It crossed my mind that this might be the beginning of the end of the world. That this might be the War to end all Wars, started with a vicious attack on innocent people. Who knows if that still might be the case?

I remember that the entire company shut down that day and they sent us all home. And it was later that day that I learned that my friend Brady was missing from the Pentagon. It was two days later that I learned he’d been killed. 

brady.jpg

brady.jpg

Brady Howell was a born leader (he was the student body president at our high school our senior year). He was smart and hilarious and ambitious and educated, and he was living his dream as a Presidential Management Intern, working as a civilian for the department of Naval Intelligence at the Pentagon. He was at work on that day, 6 years ago today, when he was killed by the plane flown in to the building.

I made a promise that I would never forget him. That I would never forget that he was killed by terrorists who seek to destroy the peace of this country and cause pain and sorrow, and grief and fear, anger and mistrust among us. That I would never forget to appreciate LIFE, to live it and love it, and be grateful for what I have. That even though our lives are sometimes full of fear and sorrow, it’s a good life, and how glad I am to have it. And how much I want not to waste it. :)

I’m taking this chance to remember that promise now. For me, this will never be just another day on the calendar.

Brady, my friend, you will never be forgotten.

Take just a minute and go over to the 2996 blog. This is a complete list of all the victims. All of the people who died. It stuns and saddens me how long it takes to scroll to the bottom of that list, without even reading names.

Here are some other comments from bloggers around the world. Feel free to leave your link in the comments with your thoughts. 

Maybe it’s just me hearing less about this. Maybe the years will fade this event from memory. Maybe there will come a day when “September 11” doesn’t instantly bring to mind that terrible day. But I won’t forget my promise.  Brady, my friend, you will never be forgotten.

Your turn: What will you never forget about this day and its aftermath? 

Update

on 2007-09-12 04:07 by Jessica

Following a few more blogs. Reading a few more things. I stumbled on

this blog

, and he embedded a link to a really COOL story, being read in this YouTube video. It’s a children’s book, the true story of a heroic fireboat named the John J. Harvey, who helped put out the massive fire caused by the attacks at the World Trade Center. We’re totally going to buy this book.