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MANHATTAN TRAGEDY HITS CLOSE TO HOME

I pulled the starter rope on the pump motor and pushed in the choke when the engine caught. The hose jumped as the heavy stream of water surged into the tank. It would take a few minutes to fill, so I took a bag and went to the corn patch to pick some ears for supper.

It was a bright fall afternoon with scattered cumulous clouds white against the blue. I was enjoying the quiet of the field after three busy days in Manhattan, where our oldest son took a bride. I enjoyed replaying scenes in my head as I hunted up and down the rows for perfect ears.

Saturday night, we were crowded into a room in a boisterous Italian restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. Waiters brought out big platters of food, and we served ourselves family style. Outside, the street was closed off, and the crowd moved through the tables that were packed along the sidewalk. A guy was playing an accordion as the city rubbed shoulders and enjoyed itself.

Sunday afternoon, Kathleen and I stood in the back of the church and watched the bridal party assemble. In her white gown and veil, the bride seemed to float out of the Rolls-Royce and up the steps. The groom's face lit up as he saw her come with her parents down the long aisle.

"I didn't get this choked up at my own wedding," I confessed to Kathleen. "You didn't know what it meant then," she whispered back.

Our daughter sang and led the congregation from the altar, her voice rich inside the stone walls of the church. At the reception, we danced and enjoyed the company of friends, old and new. The swing band had everybody jumping.

At midnight, we rode off in a limo. Maybe only a country person can really understand the magnitude of Manhattan. That's what I thought as we crossed the river and were dazzled by the lights of the skyscrapers in the hazy night.

The youngest and I caught an early flight home Monday. Kathleen would follow the next day on the train.

The farm felt old and slow after New York. The only bustle was the chickens crowding at the feeder. We had supper, cleaned up the kitchen and turned in early.

Now it's Tuesday, and the world is different. At school this morning, the words went up and down the hall like an electric current: airplanes, explosion, fire, terrorists . . . I put my students to work and stood in the doorway wondering when the phone would ring in the adjacent room. I knew Kathleen was headed for Grand Central Station, and a lot of the family would be at airports.

A teacher came to the door with a message. Kathleen had called from her sister's home in New Jersey. She didn't know the whereabouts of the newlyweds. A couple of hours later, they called from Kansas City, where their plane had been ordered to land. They were safe but distraught about friends who worked at the World Trade Center.

Hours passed, and the web of family information grew. My sister Theresa spoke of watching the smoke in the city as she and her husband drove north from Newark. People parked along the expressways taking pictures of the disaster. As she and Tom traveled to their home in the Adirondacks, the oncoming lanes were full of emergency vehicles headed south.

The phone tonight was full of messages about people we knew who had family close to the World Trade Center. Two missed being in the building because they overslept. The daughter of a friend was scheduled to be in one of the buildings later in the day.

"No man is an island." We know those words, but the truth of them is never so clear as when we are stunned by the starkness of tragedy. Then the waters between us recede, and suddenly we realize that we are all connected and how what begins with family quickly stretches to that extended family, the nation.

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