I seem to recall it was a rather lovely late summer/early autumn day. Sun shining. Temperate. Clear skies. What the meteorologist on the local news would call a “Wow Day”.
At the time I worked four tens…Noon-11pm…as a supervisor at a telemarketing company. On that particular Tuesday I had to go in at 9am for our monthly Employee of the Month ceremony, a big dog & pony show where the suits from our corporate office in Akron came down to make boring & repetitive speeches and give out meaningless awards.
For some reason I never turned on my TV that morning. I just got up and got ready for the big meeting. I only lived a mile from the office so I left my apartment between 8:30 & 8:45. During my short commute I heard on the radio that an airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. At first there was some confusion and reports seemed to indicate that it may have been a small plane that an inexperienced recreational pilot had somehow steered way off course. I have never been to New York City and I thought maybe that kind of thing wasn’t a completely unheard of scenario. It was an interesting story but I had other things on my mind and just shook it off.
That didn’t last long. As I got to the parking lot at the office a couple of my co-workers were outside. They asked me if I’d heard the news. From there the sequence of events is a bit of a blur. There was a television on in our conference room where we watched it all unfold. We soon found out that it was a commercial airliner that had crashed into the tower. Then television cameras actually caught the second plane crashing into the other tower. I’m no expert, but it immediately became clear to me that this was no accident…it was very much intentional. Soon we heard that the bosses from Akron had not even left Ohio yet on their company jet. Then we heard that all air travel in the United States had been suspended…all flights grounded. That really grabbed my attention. A clearly concerned President Bush tersely addressed the nation. News emerged that a plane had also crashed into the Pentagon, and that another had been hijacked and was presumably headed for Washington DC to dive-bomb into the U.S. Capitol before mysteriously crashing into a field in Pennsylvania less than 3 hours from my home here in West Virginia. Terrorism, which all my life had been associated with faraway places like Libya and Iran, had come to America. Oh there had been a few small incidents previously (the World Trade Center itself had been bombed by a truck in its garage in 1993, killing 6 people), but nothing on this scale. What was unfolding before my eyes was unimaginable.
Eventually the EOM ceremony was cancelled, and at some point, to my utter shock & amazement, all operations shut down for the day. Still we stayed. We sat in the conference room watching the TV as the first tower fell, then the second tower. In the blink of an eye the well-known landscape of NY City was irrevocably changed. I came home and continued to watch the coverage on television. The world had stopped.
I was not directly affected by the events of September 11, 2001. I had no friends or family members killed, injured, or even present. I didn’t even tangentially know of anyone involved. I never had any fear that my town may come under attack. Little ol’ West Virginia isn’t that important. But the images of that day will stay with me forever. The second plane crashing into the tower. The buildings falling to the ground. The smoke billowing like some sort of sci-fi monster, covering lower Manhattan with soot and debris. The stunned look on people as they wandered through the greatest city in the nation. As one news anchor put it that day “Good Lord…there are no words.”
The ensuing years have seen the tragic events of 9/11 become a political football, marginalizing the loss of life and trivializing the decisions made in its aftermath. That is not my intention here. However, I must say that one thing that will always stick with me was the strong leadership exhibited by President George W. Bush and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. No matter what party one may be registered to or what views one may have about economics, social issues, and foreign policy I defy anyone to deny with a straight face that those two men showed incredible resolve, decisiveness, and composure in a time of madness, anger, confusion, and anguish.
For a brief period after 9/11 our nation stood united and embraced our heritage of faith, charity, and love. Even when those feelings gave way to anger as we began to grasp what exactly had occurred and understood who exactly had perpetrated this heinous act of cowardice we were united in that rage. And while that unity and prayerful attitude was all too short-lived it was uplifting & encouraging at a time when the masses needed uplifted and encouraged. If only it didn’t take a disaster to produce that outlook. If only it would last for more than a couple of weeks. If only.
One thing that has lasted in the decade since 9/11 is a newfound respect for law enforcement, firefighters, and the military. I think society had gotten complacent and began to take those folks for granted. But as we sat in our comfortable homes watching the ultimate, saddest, most heart wrenching reality show in history a healthy reverence emerged for those who put their lives on the line to protect & serve others every single day. They run into burning buildings when everyone else is running away, and nothing ever illustrated that fact more than the events of September 11, 2001.
For some odd reason I have been touched more than anything by the stories of those that miraculously survived that day. The people who missed their flights on the four planes that crashed. Those that called in sick or were running 10 minutes late to work and therefore weren’t in the towers when they were hit. Those stories, while haunting, illustrate, atleast to me, the presence of God and His grace. I don’t know why this person died but that person survived. I’m not that smart. But I believe that those kind of small miracles happen every single day whether we know it or not.
I wish I could come up with something poetic and profound to say about 9/11 on its 10th Anniversary. Every generation seems to have its historic watershed moment of heartbreak. Pearl Harbor. The assassination of JFK. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Hurricane Katrina. There are no logical explanations for why these things happen or why good people die under such horrific circumstances. We know that hatred exists. Hatred for freedom. Hatred for God. Hatred for humanity. It would be nice if we could obliterate the hate, but that is unrealistic. However, we also know that the vast majority of the population has a tremendous capacity for love, compassion, kindness, patience, and empathy. That does not mean that we are willing to be weak. It has been well demonstrated in the past decade that America will open up a can of whoopass on those that threaten our way of life.
Countless lessons were learned on that terrible day ten years ago, both on a grand scale and in the course of everyday small town life. I hope we never forget the event or what we learned from it. We owe it to the 3000 innocent people whose lives were taken to honor their memory, to appreciate every day of life given to us by God, and to defend the principles of freedom & liberty that are the bedrock of our nation. We owe it to the first responders who sacrificed their lives in an effort to save others and military personnel who have perished in the war on terror that was birthed on 9/11 to always appreciate the fantastic job that those individuals do and the danger they voluntarily put themselves in each & every day. However, we also know that life moves on. We cannot wallow in heartbreak or live in fear. I can’t even imagine the sadness and pain the families & friends of those murdered that day have endured…the spouses suddenly left alone and the countless children who lost a parent. But even those folks have had to get on with their lives. I am sure many have remarried. The children have grown up. Some of the rules may have changed, but we continue…we love, we laugh, we work, we live. We move forward. Hopefully we take time to call a friend or visit a neighbor, and never ever pass up an opportunity to tell someone “Thanks” or “I love you”. We should have always done those things, but sometimes we get too lazy, too busy, or too caught up in our own perceived self-importance. Regardless of politics we should understand that we live in the greatest nation on earth and enjoy advantages that are the envy of the world. Evildoers knocked us down on September 11, 2001, but we got back up. We will always get back up.
God Bless America, and may God continue to guide & direct the loved ones of the thousands lost on that terrible day a decade ago.