West Tisbury: Memories of 9/11

— Kyra Steck

So much conversation this week has been about where we were and how we became aware of the events of September 11, 2001. TV news has covered and recovered it, with ceremonies, reminiscences, readings of names of those who died that day. I wondered how families felt, having to see those images, having to relive the loss of loved ones. I thought it would be terribly painful. Others told me it was important to mark the occasion, to show respect for so many losses. Whatever your perspective, it is impossible not to remember that day.

My friend Bill Ternes was here teaching one of his painting workshops. The weather was perfect for outdoor painting. It was sunny and cool. I forget where they had all gone, but remember that I had a couple of errands, and planned to join the group later in the morning.

I was driving to Morning Glory Farm, car windows open to enjoy the day. The radio was on to NPR. The news was unimaginable. By the time I was nearing Morning Glory, a plane had flown into the second tower of the World Trade Center.

Mike was working at the Bessire house up the road from us, and I headed there to tell him to turn on his radio. When I got home, I immediately turned on the television and watched, over and over, those images that would sear into our memories forever.

Sam Huntington was on a plane that morning, and Nancy, who was out painting with Bill, was worried for her husband’s safety. As it turned out, he was fine, not on one of the planes that was commandeered and crashed. He was the only person I knew from the Vineyard. There were several people from my hometown of Ridgefield, Conn., long a commuter town full of people who worked in the City. The City. That was how we referred to New York City; what other city was there? So many people lost that day. Our entire country mourned. We all had our stories.

It’s hard to realize that it happened 20 years ago, that so much has happened in our country and our world since then. So much that has changed everything.

I was chairman of the library board back then. As a result of the Patriot Act, we voted to stop patrons signing out books with their names in the back of library books, and to no longer save the subsequent borrowing records of patrons. I remember it being a huge issue for the American Library Association and for all of our local libraries. It was a scary time. We feared FBI agents coming into the library and removing public computers and patrons’ borrowing histories. Library staff would be forbidden to inform patrons if their records were taken.

Many of us still miss being able to see who took out a book before, knowing that we all had friends who liked the same type of book. I have no idea if any terrorists were ever located and stopped by their library records being examined. There is probably still discussion of the principles inherent in the act, how it still affects the lives of every American. Is it still a necessary tool for finding terrorists in our midst? Is it still considered an intrusion on our civil liberties? I know many people who believe that such surveillance doesn’t bother them if they have done nothing wrong. There is hardly anything private anymore now that most people carry a cell phone that can be constantly monitored. Privacy is a totally different concept with different parameters.

As I am writing this column, the sun is shining in a sky of clear blue. I have weighted my notes down with my magnifying glass to prevent them from blowing around, as a light, cooling breeze comes through the window beside me. It is a day of weather much like it was on that September 11, 20 years ago.

If you have any West Tisbury Town Column suggestions, email Hermine Hull, hermine.hull@gmail.com.