(originally posted 9/11/10)
I can tell you where I was when I watched Space Shuttle Challenger explode. I can tell you what I was doing when the news broke that President Reagan had been shot. I will never forget anything about the morning I awoke to the news that John Lennon had been killed. I remember the fear associated with Three Mile Island. Yet all of these events, terrible as they were, even taken as a combined whole do not approach that horrific day eight years ago.I encourage you to share your thoughts, stories, etc., as well.
Do you remember how crystal clear the sky was that morning? It was the kind of day when you secretly began formulating some sort of excuse to cut out of work early so that you might drink in some of the beauty, knowing that there would not be many more of these days left before the weather turned too cold.
I went to work that morning as any other, and had just gotten my morning coffee and sat down to read my emails when a coworker began calling everyone in the building to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Wow - that's kind of weird...how bad of a pilot do you have to be to not see the Twin Towers, especially on day like this? The image in my mind was that of a small private plane, and I thought that the damage to that plane would have to have been much greater than any damage to the building. I made a mental note to check the news when I got home that evening, and went about my morning routine.
Then the second plane hit.
It's funny how your sense of scope can sometimes be so very far off. I remember immediately thinking "terrorists," but, having no knowledge of what had happened other than being told that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, in my mind's eye I still saw only two small private planes, piloted by crazed terrorist kamikazes. How could anyone have imagined the breadth and depth of this attack, much less that it wasn't over yet?
By now, some coworkers had foregone their morning assignments to start following what was happening online. We had no TV in the building, but a few more radios were rustled up. Do you recall the misinformation that began to flow as everyone tried to make sense of what was going on? When the third plane crashed into the Pentagon, it was not originally reported as such, at least not on the broadcast I was listening to. Instead, it was reported that a bomb of some sort had gone off "near" the Pentagon. Now, panic was starting to rush in. What the hell was happening?
I remember one coworker who reported for her scheduled shift later that morning in tears. She was the first person I saw reacting emotionally to the attack. The only words she could muster were, "They're gone. The towers are gone." Footage of the collapses was showing up online, and panic turned to outright fear. Word came that Lancaster was closing our courthouse and other public buildings. We, too, closed for the day.
The real impact of it all did not hit me until I got home and turned on the television. It's at about this point in the day where that "where were you when" clarity of memory fades into a cloud of rushing images, sounds, and emotions for me. Watching the footage of the planes as it was being found and thrown on air, raw and unedited. Seeing the pictures of people standing almost zombie-like, caked with dust and tears and blood and fear, unable even to move much less understand what had happened to them. Realizing how many innocent people had lost their lives without ever knowing what happened; and then realizing how many more lost theirs with full knowledge of what was happening. And further - realizing how many voluntarily ran towards the disaster as everyone else was running away, knowing that they were likely to lose their lives but doing so to help others. As clichéd as it sounds, there is no better definition of "hero".
Then, the panic and fear I felt was joined by an emotion I did not expect: anger. Outright, unfettered anger. HOW DARE THEY?!? I've never been what you would call a war-monger. I'm not of the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" school of thought. I abhor violence as a means to resolve dispute or exact revenge. But, as the saying goes, in this case I made an exception. I was full of patriotic anger, and to this day I make no apology for it. I wanted us to find out who did this and blow the fuckers off the face of the Earth - period!
I started to write this wanting only to share my "where were you" story and ask others for theirs. Amazingly, all these years later, writing this is causing many of those same emotions I felt that day to well up in me again, just as they had resurfaced three years after the attacks, when I had the opportunity to see Ground Zero with my own eyes. To be there, where those towers once stood, where the attacks began, where so many lost their lives for no reason and so many more for the most heroic of reasons, brought it all rushing back in a way that again surprised and, frankly, frightened me.
Despite that surprise and fear, I do pray that there never comes the day that thinking about the events of 9/11 doesn't cause so strong an emotional response in me. Although I was not physically there that day, I am forever grateful to those men and women who gave the greatest sacrifice in the effort to save people whom they had never met, and will forever think of those who did not survive. May this day be one where your thoughts and, if you offer them, prayers go to those folks, and not a moment of your time be given to those who committed the atrocity that made this day so painful.