No jokes, silliness, or funny pictures in this post. Today, I want to give you my words.
I was temping part-time at a previous workplace on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. That morning, I woke with an impulse to go to the TV before making coffee, unusual for me. I clicked it on and immediately saw smoke pouring from the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. I thought at first it was just a regular fire; the news announcers muttered distractedly and didn’t make much sense. But as I watched the screen, BOOM! The second plane hit.
My mouth dropped open. I immediately called my mum, but she didn’t want to talk then. She wanted to hear every word the news was saying.
I watched a while longer in growing horror. The Pentagon attack, and then reports of a downed plane in Pennsylvania. What was happening to us?
The network had live footage of a man-on-the-street view from local reporters when the towers collapsed. I remember the faces of the people running away from the dust cloud, running toward the camera, screaming, with a cop standing there frantically gesturing, yelling what was probably, “Go! Go! Go!”
I saw a small redheaded woman, perhaps in her forties or fifties, pelting toward the camera, terrified, her mouth open and shrieking, wearing the same expression as the little boy in the famous Vietnam War photo of the children running down the road after being napalmed. I cried for her. I’m crying now thinking about her. Even now, I think of her often. I hope she is okay now.
I felt numb. I got dressed and went to work. Someone had brought in a tiny TV and we watched the news for the rest of the day. The phone only rang twice (we worked for a shopping circular and we took ads over the phone, which typically rang all day long).
Around 2:00 pm, I went out to pick up a copy of a special newspaper supplement and some chocolate chip cookies. An eerie silence hung over the streets. Most people were inside, watching the telly or listening to radios. It hit me suddenly that I could hear no air traffic. No planes, no helicopters, nothing. Every plane in the United States had been grounded. All of them. Nothing could fly, not even into our tiny, insignificant airport.
It was then that the seriousness of the situation came thundering down on me–even in our small Midwestern city, hundreds of miles from NYC, we were potentially in danger. We had been invaded. Nobody knew if there were more rogue pilots on other planes or where they might be. A chill ran down my spine, and I hastened back to the office.
Over the next few days, I heard many stories of Americans stranded in other countries because their flights had been cancelled. They spoke of the help and sympathy given to them. To this day, I still sometimes hear people from other nations mention it and say how sorry they are. We’re lucky compared to some of them; they deal with this kind of thing every day. But they knew how we were feeling at that moment–the shock of attack upending our daily lives–and this feeling brought all Americans together too. Even those of us who were far away from the sites felt it.
We truly thought nobody could ever hurt us–the US is too big. Now we know that isn’t true. America grew up a little as a country that day. It’s too bad we had to pay such a horrible price.
I’d like to think such a thing can never happen again. But it will. It has to. There is too much hate in the world, too much fear of people and cultures we don’t understand. It’s ironic that the most visible attack took place in one of the most diverse cities in our country.
What can we learn from September 11? That hate is destructive. That blindly following any religious doctrine or government decree, especially ones that advocate harming or ostracizing others, is dangerous. We may think we are immune to the kinds of thinking that produced Al Qaeda militants and suicide pilots, but we are not. I see it every day online. On biased news reports. When I hear people around me saying awful and judgmental things about others. I see biblical law slowly encroaching and overwhelming our Constitution, destroying the carefully worded values that keep us free.
We’ll tear ourselves apart if we do not open our hearts and minds. We’ll have another September 11, but it will be a slow, painful one that creeps insidiously into our lives until we wake up one morning and realize how badly we have trapped ourselves. We have allowed terrorism to change how we live our lives, caved to fear, and in the process, we have permitted our country to backslide into an era when human rights were not a priority. We are becoming the enemy.
We must remain vigilant, for now we know that those who want to harm us can do so. But we can’t do it by treating each other with suspicion and prejudice. We can’t forget what made our country what it is–optimism, openness to new ideas and new exploration (including scientific discovery), and acceptance of people who fled to our shores from horrors we could not imagine. All our citizens are valuable: those who were here before we came, and those who will arrive after us. Those who are different from us in the ways they eat, love, and pray. Who look different from us and who speak many languages.
Remember the lessons of September 11. Once a year all Americans, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, orientation, and identity, come together in remembrance of this terrible day. But we should be standing together every day.
I wish solace for those who lost friends, family, and colleagues. I remember those who fought bravely on Flight 93 to keep anyone else from getting hurt. I give my love to the world, and my hope that someday, we will all know each other, understand each other, and come together in harmony.