Some people say that the memory of 9/11 is exploited, and I agree, at times it is. The following is an essay I wrote shortly after 9/11. I hope anyone who reads it will accept it only as a way to remember that day, and the people who died.
I sat in my office that September morning, listening as usual to talk radio as I answered e-mails, returned phone calls and took care of the minor emergencies that always seemed to be waiting for me when I arrived each morning. In between conversations, I heard bits and pieces on the radio about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center.
I sent an e-mail to a friend:
I just heard a news story on the radio. Something about an airplane flying into the World Trade Center. Have you heard anything? Poor pilot. I wonder what happened. Hope nobody else was hurt.
As I proceeded with the morning’s tasks, the next piece of news came over the radio. The plane was not a small single-engine aircraft, but a jetliner. At this point, a seed of suspicion was planted deep inside – that this might not be an accident. But my concern was kept at bay by some other larger emotion inside me. Even upon hearing the news of the jetliner, I still wondered if the pilot had a heart attack or a stroke.
I sent another e-mail.
They’re saying it was a jetliner! How in the world could that happen? I guess the pilot could have had a heart attack or something, but what about the co-pilot? There couldn’t have been any survivors on the plane, but maybe nobody was hurt inside the World Trade Center.
I stubbornly quelled my suspicions, too horrible to let rise to the surface.
The next news report changed everything.
The radio newscaster lost his professional tone as he said, “Oh my God….oh my God. A second airplane has crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. A second airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”
That single moment in time. I knew–we all knew. Things would never be the same.
Tears burned in my eyes as I realized it must be a terrorist attack. We were no longer safe within our borders. I had an urge to gather my children close to me. My mind had lost all discipline and ability to focus, and I shoved the tasks of the morning aside. I focused only on the radio, and my primary means of communicating my feelings about these events—email.
A second airplane hit the World Trade Center! I can’t believe it. It must be a terrorist attack. Who would do this? Why? Those poor passengers. Those poor people in the building. There must be hundreds of dead or injured. I can’t concentrate.
Those words…a second airplane. Innocence was gone, and in its place was a torrent of emotions: sadness, fear, anger, curiosity, sentiment, shock, regret, loss.
My children. A part of me wanted to leave work, pick them up from school and be with them—to tell them I loved them. I wanted to tell them I was sorry the world had changed. But, another part of me didn’t want to alarm them. I wanted to keep their world normal. Unchanged. This was part of my denial.
Finally, we turned on a television in the office. Employees gathered around to watch.
With each event of that day, I remember being astonished at the sheer volume of what was occurring in such a short amount of time. One terrible event happened and before we could completely absorb it, another flashed on the screen, even more horrific than the last.
A jetliner crashes into the World Trade Center tower. The second airplane hits. A jetliner crashes into the Pentagon. Other airplanes are missing. People are jumping from the burning towers. An airplane crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, apparently on its way to Washington D.C.
Finally, the culmination of disbelief and horror: the buildings fell, one right after the other. I remember watching it happen on television and hearing the disbelief of the reporter as he attempted to maintain his composure while reporting such a horrific sight. I heard people screaming and crying in the background. I stood in front of that television and watched each building come crashing down in clouds of thunderous terror that engulfed the city, chasing citizens like a monster. I felt I should turn away from the screen – felt guilty for watching an event I knew was the death of thousands, but I was frozen there, swaying back and forth like I used to do when I rocked my babies to comfort them. I covered my eyes to hide my tears in front of my co-workers.
After the towers fell, we closed the office for the first time in its 20-year history.