Sept. 11, 2001: Where We Were...and Where We Are Now
I had not been a member of my department for very long, having just been promoted up from the entry-level floor, and didn't know the people there very well. There was a shortage of space until things were arranged to fully integrate me into my new workspace, so I was tucked into the corner of the QA room, and just doing my thing like any other day.
My company's policy is relatively lenient about what it lets people have around them while they work, so a couple of the gals in the room had radios going, as they liked to check in with the local country-station morning show as they got on with their duties (it was the only station that could get through the walls of our building). I pretty much tuned out the sound and chatter, as I did most mornings.
Then one of them started shushing everyone else down and turned up her little transistor radio, so everyone could hear the news breaking into the DJ's schpiel to tell us that a large airplane had just crashed into one of the WTC towers.
At first, we just kind of sat there, wondering exactly what it was we were hearing. Certainly, airplane accidents do happen from time to time...but one of the two tallest buildings in the city? One of the gals wondered aloud what kind of a moron the pilot had to be to hit something that big and visible.
That line of talk actually went on for some time, interspersed with half-hearted joking from some, and admonishments from others to "jeez, stop it, people probably got hurt".
Then the second plane hit.
Nobody said much of anything for hours after that.
By that time, the management had parked a large TV on the main floor, so everyone in the building could see what was happening. I couldn't hear anything through the window which looked out from where I was to that area, but the looks on people's faces told me everything I needed to know.
For my part, I just shut up and got on with things, while I turned these events around in my head.
I was reminded of a concept I'd read about in a book by Terry Pratchett, wherein he spoke of "the Trousers of Time"...those decisive moments in one's life where Fate goes down one leg or the other, dictating the rest of history from then on as it does so.
And -- as silly as this may sound, it really did happen -- the image formed in my head, as the improbability of two airline pilots being that inattentive in the same place at the same time asserted itself, of Fate tripping in mid-leg and tearing a hole in the knee.
Then, as if to top it all off, we listened as the towers went crashing to the ground.
And I remembered a church trip to the Big Apple that I had gone on when I was still in high school.
I remembered us entering one of the WTC towers, and going up to the observation floor -- the 104th, if I remember right.
There was a lowered platform running the entire edge of the floor, with a handrail jutting up from the floor about two-and-a-half feet from the windows that formed the outer shell of the building....so that if one had the guts to do it, one could step down onto the low platform, grasp the handrail, and actually rest one's head on the window and look....DOOOOWWNNN.
I have always had a great fear of heights, and my heart was lodged firmly somewhere in the region of my left ear, but (with one of my friends holding my hand down on the rail in case I blacked out)...I did it.
The view was....unbelievable.
It saddens me, to this day, that no one will never see that view again.
It is also humbling to think of the difference between that view...and what it must have been like to look out from the gaping, burning hole where your office used to be a few minutes ago.
As I sit here composing this, I am watching a stream from FOX News of the live newscast which played as those events unfolded, and thinking about where I was then....and where I am now.
Have I changed somehow? I'm not sure. It's hard to put it down in words. And frankly, whatever I might write (including everything I've puked up onto the screen thus far this morning) would not do this the justice it deserves.
Better, I think, to give you -- my fellow climbers of the rock of life -- a trail or two to follow on your own paths of remembrance.
As you might expect, there are signposts everywhere today, but perhaps none on as grand a scale as the 2996 Memorial Project. Quite simply, it is a concerted campaign involving over 3,000 bloggers to have every single victim of the WTC attacks memorialized individually. (Yes, you read right -- EVERY SINGLE ONE.) Each participating blog writer chose one name to place in a memorial "plaque" on their own blog, and post a tribute to that person...all at once, all today. The original base website of this effort ("www.dcroe.com/2996/") is currently "suspended" -- I will choose to assume that it simply crashed and burned from too much traffic -- but I have found a way to reach the list of bloggers through Google. (Search for "2996 blog", and click on the "Cached" link of the second entry on the results page. They're all there.) But if you like, you can probably just wander around and stumble on one here and there. That's how many there are.
Lorie Byrd of Wizbang has assembled as comprehensive a collection of articles and tributes as can be found anywhere on the Web, going back through each of the five years since the attack. In addition, her comrade-in-arms Jay Tea has undertaken a blow-by-blow, post-by-post playback of the events of the day as they occurred.
In contrast to the pictures and video that we have all seen, Peggy Noonan offers tribute to the sounds that were heard that day...with special focus on the phone calls that flew back and forth, as people frantically tried to phone home before the worst came to pass.
Captain John Maniscalco, a pilot with American Airlines, wrote this article a while back about the way things have changed since then. He speaks of what...and who...he's noticed. It's an older piece, but it still rings powerfully about what the attacks have done to some of us as people.
Here, on the FOX News front page, you will find the link to the stream I've been watching this morning of their actual live coverage as run on Sept. 11, 2001. At this writing, it's been running for over four hours, and it's still going. Feel free to point this to anyone whom you think REALLY needs to be reminded of what happened. But act quickly if you decide to do so...I do not know how long it will be up.
Cox and Forkum, a collection of artists editorial, shares with us a cartoon to which they have added a new panel for each of the five anniversaries. They paint rather a cutting picture of what it apparently means to confront terrorism now...as opposed to what it meant then.
Finally...allow me to share one moment of great personal resonance to me.
A year or two ago, I was allowed the rare honor of participating in the flag-lowering ceremony at Walt Disney World (and the honorary title of Veteran of the Day) as my family looked on. The following picture was taken on that occasion...but I think it's appropriate today.
Bow your heads today, folks. Go find a flag to salute. Do something nice for someone.
But, as we return to our lives tomorrow...whatever you do....
Testimonials, tributes and musings on this day from:
From My Position....On The Way!