Millions of words have been written about the events of September 11, 2001. And now that the 10th anniversary of that atrocity (Some call it a tragedy, but it was not. It was an atrocity.) is here, there are millions more. So I can’t really add anything new to the mix. I have nothing profound… nothing that hasn’t already been said. All I can do is to throw in a couple of personal observations. You may or may not find them interesting.
Those of us above a certain age remember where we were and what we were doing on days of great happiness, of great sadness… of monumental events. When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was in Mrs. Spelt’s class at Elizabeth Greene Elementary School in Newington, Connecticut. When Challenger exploded, I was a few miles up the road from the Kennedy Space Center, watching. Now, this is not primarily going to be a Where-I-Was-And-What-I-Was-Doing memoir, because you don’t care any more about where I was than I care about where you were. But when the first plane hit the first tower on September 11, I was just getting ready to leave WBUS Radio in State College, PA, having just finished the morning show with my buddy Jeff. We watched the second plane hit… and then we didn’t leave for many hours.
It’s almost impossible for me to believe that it really was ten years ago. So much has happened in my life since then that it must be ten years… but still, it’s difficult to fathom. In the intervening years, I lost a marriage, a home, a job, and my parents. I’ve gained new understanding, knowledge and insight, new coronary arteries, and a new and wonderful wife. Since 9/11, I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, Florida, Pennsylvania again, North Carolina, Illinois, and am now back in North Carolina. On 9/11/01, I was 47, and feeling pretty young, all things considered. Now, I’m 57, unemployed, and, frankly, feeling pretty old.
My most vivid memories of that day were the utter sense of shock and deep, deep sadness. I remember watching that second plane hit, and saying to my friend Diana, “That’s the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.” It still is.
I remember feeling as though we were all in a daze…. a bad dream… just going through the motions… for a couple of weeks post 9/11. I remember buying that little flag to clamp on the car. Where did they come from all of a sudden? Where did they go? I remember spontaneously bursting into tears for what seemed like days. I became aware that this shared experience was, in essence, a bad wound… a terrible scar… and we all had to recover from it together. Unfortunately that spirit of unity, epitomized by US Senators and Representatives, from both sides of the aisle, coming together and singing “God Bless America,” didn’t last. We went right back to the sniping, and the polarization that existed before. And it got worse.
I remember marveling at how various people handled it: Humor columnist Dave Barry, for once, could not be funny. It was okay. We didn’t want him to be. So he wrote a serious column. Dave Barry being serious must have meant this was really, really bad.
I wondered how the parody newspaper, The Onion, would handle it. And they were absolutely brilliant. With headlines like, Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake, Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell, and American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie, The Onion nailed it. Even now they’re pretty powerful. I’ve heard that there was some talk of a Pulitzer… seriously. But their NSFW graphic pretty much put the kibosh on that.
The writing, like I said, was brilliant. If you’re offended by profanity, and you choose to click on those links, I hope you can overlook it, because they really captured how we were feeling at the time.
So where are we now? How far have we come? I’ll let all the others do the commentary on that. I just know this: We all changed in some ways that are quite observable, and in some ways that are probably less so. We’re ten years older. Some of us live lives that are essentially the same as they were then, some of us live quite different lives. Some who were there then are no longer with us… and some who were not yet with us then are now in elementary school.
Ten years from now? September 11, 2021? I’ve learned in these past ten years to never take anything for granted, so I won’t venture a guess. But whatever it’s like then, the one thing I’m quite sure of is that it will be considerably different from the times in which we now live.
And again: Never forget.