Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years

Sometimes it is hard to imagine what life was like ten years ago.

Ten years ago today was September 10, 2001.  Ten years ago the world was innocent, although we didn't know that yet.  We thought we had seen it all.  We'd fought two wars as a world and two more as the leaders of that world.  We'd seen more than a few financial downturns and had learned how to create magic from thin air.

Ten years ago we were invincible.

The "we" I am speaking of is, of course, the human race.  More specifically, the "we" is the United States.

I don't remember September 10th.  I doubt there was anything truly remarkable about the day.  It was just another day in September - another day working as a temporary accountant (this time payroll for a defense contractor) and looking for a job in my chosen field of innovative technology that I had fallen into about eight years before.  I was probably concerned about making my mortgage, what my boyfriend of the time was really thinking (he was leaving on a business trip that day), and whether or not I would be able to take time off for a second interview to follow up with the one I had been on either the day or the week before.

I do remember the morning of September 11th.  I remember it because it was one of the most beautiful mornings I had seen in a really long time.  The sky was a blue you only see in the movies.  You know that blue - it's brilliant and most probably enhanced by a polarizing filter on the lens or in the editing system.  I remember fluffy clouds that looked like popcorn - my boyfriend was a pilot and I was learning about weather, not that I would actually go up in a small plane but I was learning about clouds anyway.  I remember the leaves were a brilliant green and the smell of the air was crisp.  The humidity that encases Northern Virginia from late June through the middle of September had abandoned us a little early and granted us a morning that was incredibly pure.  In some ways, it reminded me of mornings after the Santa Ana winds in Los Angeles.

When the first person ran into my cubby hole of an office asking if I had heard about the small plane that crashed into the World Trade Center I thought it was a joke.  I had never heard of a plane hitting the Towers before.  It was a pretty big building and you would have to either be blind, drunk or stupid to hit the thing on purpose, or have a massive mechanical failure.  I hoped it was the second.

Then I heard someone else yell "Another plane just hit them!"

Now I was in shock.  Two planes?  Both Towers?  Suicide pilots in small planes?  

I ran to the break room where there was a rather large television.  (Large even by today's standards.)  The news was showing footage of two large jets hitting the towers, smoke billowing from the windows and the beautiful morning that was echoed in New York destroyed by both the news and those black plumes. 

That's when we heard the roar of passenger jet that was just a little too close and thirty seconds later someone swearing more profanely than I had heard in this rather buttoned down office.  

They'd hit the Pentagon and we had a seat with a view.

I stood in that corner office facing the Pentagon watching the building my father worked in twenty years before burn for at least half an hour.  The five sided monkey cage we used to joke.  The building nothing could touch that turned out to be the largest target in Virginia.  A target no one could miss.  A few minutes after we witnessed the explosion, we felt the fighter jets buzz by our building.  

There is no mistaking the feel of a fighter jet with anything else when you are on the ground.  Everything around you rattles.  It was that rattle that woke us up from our stupor and made us all realize we, as a nation, were under attack.  This was war and for the first time since 1941 we had been attacked on our own soil.

Our innocence was gone.  But also gone was our devil may care attitude.  Things started to matter again.  People started paying attention to the world around them again in a way they may not have on September 10th.  As one WTC survivor said in a New York Time's audio article I heard today - there was the moment before and the moment after the attack, and we remember both.

It is true that how you recall the day depends upon your radius from the attack.  Those of us who remember it the most vividly were eye-witnesses or affected directly.  We knew someone on a plane, on two planes, in the Towers or we were there in New York or Arlington.  Our planes were redirected, delayed or abandoned completely, or our company gave up the ghost and decided to shut down.  Me - I was an eye-witness and knew more than one person on two planes, both through career connections.  One was a producer from Hollywood the other was a CTO of a technology company.  Both were heading to LA.  While I didn't know either of them well, I knew them well enough to be devastated by their loss.  There is not a September when I do not start to remember.

But there is one other thing I remember thinking that September.  I remember thinking something very specific and heartening a day or so after the attack when my mind started to come out of the numbing fog it had been in but before I heard the first planes from Dulles roar over my condo.  If we survived the next ten Septembers then we would survive as a nation.  If we could just make it through ten anniversaries then we would have made it over the roughest part of the climb.

Tomorrow, in fact 15 minutes from now, is the tenth September and while we have quite a few issues to iron out as a nation, I think we have made the climb well.  In some ways we are a new nation - forged in the ruins of four planes, three landmarks and many, many lives.  As before, we've forged our nation in blood and revolution, although this time it was someone else's revolution.  There are still some mountains for us to climb, a ruined economy to reform and some ideals to for us to attain.  In no way are we finished nation rebuilding our own nation, but we've made a start.

I just hope that in our coming election year, the year after the tenth year, we remember what it was like in those first few days with the world was with us and we looked at our neighbors with new eyes.  I hope we remember that we are a nation bound together by history, tragedy and remarkably joy.  Let us not tear it apart through political rhetoric and blame shifting.  Remember, it is easier to climb out of the ashes with a helping hand rather than a pointing finger.

And remember the sound of the first planes that flew over your head after 9/11.  That was the sound of freedom.

1 comment:

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