Note: This post was originally written on April 13, 2012.
Military-formation jets screamed overhead today. The flyover was part of the ceremonies for Boston Red Sox Opening Day. But that sound will always remind me of September 11, 2001.
Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on 9/11. I was teaching Biblical Hebrew in Arlington, MA, that morning, and my reaction to the news was automatic: I jumped into my car, zoomed out Route 2 to Walden Pond, ran down to the beach, and swam out to the very middle.
Going for a swim might seem like an odd reaction to news of terrorist attacks. But for me it was perfectly logical. Walden Pond is not just my swimming hole, it’s my great escape. It faithfully absorbs all my problems, comforts my soul, and leads me down the shortest path back to awareness of the present moment. No wonder Walden Pond is my FPOE (Favorite Place on Earth).
Henry Thoreau loved Walden’s water, too. In Walden he wrote, “For hours, in fall days, I watched the ducks cunningly tack and veer and hold the middle of the pond, far from the sportsman; tricks which they will have less need to practise in Louisiana bayous. When compelled to rise they would sometimes circle round and round and over the pond at a considerable height, from which they could easily see to other ponds and the river, like black motes in the sky; and, when I thought they had gone off thither long since, they would settle down by a slanting flight of a quarter mile on to a distant part which was left free; but what beside safety they got by sailing in the middle of Walden I do not know, unless they love its water for the same reason that I do.”
So there I stayed, in the deepest part of the Pond, variously treading water and floating on my back for a couple of hours. Fearfully I watched the perfect blue sky, punctuated not by a single cloud that day but rather by military planes periodically taking off from nearby Hanscom Air Force Base. I knew by then that the suicide bombers had destroyed both towers in New York, attacked the Pentagon, and crashed a plane somewhere in Pennsylvania. NPR reported that the terrorists had made their way to New York via Boston’s Logan Airport. They had been right here in Boston! And I knew, as I watched each plane fly over the Pond, that all commercial and private flights in the United States had been grounded until further notice. Those were not civilian pilots up there.
Out in the middle of Walden Pond I felt a tiny bit less scared and vulnerable. I could not think of a single place in all the world where I might feel safer. I was grateful not to be in New York, or Washington DC, or even in the city of Boston proper. Those were politically significant cities. Concord was not. I recall reasoning – with the logic of fear – that any terrorist planning to attack America in another big way would be very unlikely to attack Concord, MA. Even Minneapolis, MN, where I attended high school, seemed more “important” and therefore more dangerous than Concord. Who would ever want to attack Concord? Nobody! And if some terrorist/Nazi/rapist/ax-murderer did want to come after me for some nightmarish reason, he would first have to swim out to the middle of Walden in order to find me. Because I didn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
So, I felt safe from individual bad guys. But what about planes and bombs? The terrorists could get to me that way without dipping even a toe into the hallowed waters. Right, I’d forgotten: They could simply fly over Walden and drop a bomb on it! Without knowing anything about what happens when a giant bomb is dropped onto a 102-feet-deep kettle pond of only 61 acres, I realized that the attackers could very well kill me that way. Yikes. Well, dying in the bombing of Walden Pond seemed not a bad way to go.
But then again, I asked myself, why would anyone ever drop a bomb on Walden Pond? What end could they possibly achieve that way? I certainly couldn’t think of any. Bottom line: The terrorists wouldn’t bomb the Pond. Ergo, the middle of Walden Pond was the safest place to be, and I was never leaving.