September 11, 2001. More than just "nine-eleven" as it became known, it was a day that truly struck fear and confusion into the hearts of Americans for the first time perhaps ever. It seemed like a day when everything changed, and it did, both big and small. While I mourn with those who lost friends and loved ones on that fateful day, I wanted to reflect on one small change that affected me—a scene in a place that I loved and how it was forever changed.
At the time, I was in law school at the University of Pittsburgh. I used to walk to classes every day by taking a short cut through Schenley Park, a pleasant two mile walk that allowed me to relax and enjoy nature. With the exception of a jogger or two, I was usually the only person on the trails at that hour, and I treated it as my private sanctuary. Snow and rain did not stop me; they simply provided me with a different lens through which I could enjoy the beauty surrounding me.
On this sunny Tuesday, I had walked the trails like normal and was in my 8 AM contracts class when the planes hit. We knew nothing at the time. I had a break before my 10 AM class so I had gone to a local bagel shop to get some breakfast. By the time we had returned, it seemed that all hell had broken loose. Students were gathered around a radio in the student lounge as the law school had yet to install a tv. Someone told us that the World Trade Center towers had been knocked down and that there were reports of more planes in the air, looking for targets. Then, we heard a plane was coming towards Pittsburgh and were told to evacuate campus. The Cathedral of Learning, a 30 story building on campus seemed like it was an obvious target, and it was only a block away from the law school.
So we left. Or we tried to. Every bus was full. Traffic was gridlocked as everyone tried to make their way back home. Like countless times before, I set out on foot, entering Schenley Park to the trails that had always given me comfort. But I found that my small little world had changed. These trails which were virtually empty when I had travelled them just a few hours before, were full of professionals in suits, making their way back home from downtown and Oakland. I must have seen thirty or forty of them on that warm sunny September day. A few travelled in groups, but most travelled alone, possibly travelling these trails for the first time, and most assuredly never having walked them in dress shoes or high heels. And silently walking home, I kept looking up at the contrails, wondering if we were next.
Thereafter, every time I walked that trail, the imprint of that scene comes rushing back to me. Suits. Trees. High heels. Rocks. Wingtips. Ferns. Briefcases. Gravel roads. Silent Crowds. And every so often, I would look up through the trees towards the sky—and see a contrail.