I remember being in my office on September 11th, 2001, and my co-worker Fred saying a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. At first this didn’t strike me as anything big, I remember hearing about a small plane hitting them before, and the damage hadn’t been that significant. Fred decided to pull out his small portable TV, and we all huddled around to watch it unfold. I will never forget seeing the images of the first plane hitting and the explosion that followed. It was completely surreal. At the time no one knew what was going on, it appeared to be some kind of freak accident for sure. Our small group then decided the television set in our training facility was much larger, and would allow us all to see what was going on without being cramped into a small cubicle… standing shoulder to shoulder around a four inch screen. So we ran down to the 11th floor and watched in dismay, as the building burned. We watched in absolute horror as the scenes unfolded… and then absorbed the news that our country was under attack from terrorists. I had to run to the bathroom and on the way back to the training room, I saw my co-worker Karla nervously running out of the room with a frightened look on her face, telling me she was going to get her kids. Trying to hold back tears and clearly panicked, she quickly uttered “They just attacked the Pentagon.”
One by one the towers fell and more reports came in about other government buildings being attacked. The decision was made to send us home, and I remember my close friend Tania telling me she would drive me home. With her toddler Anthony in the back seat, we took back roads to avoid the chaos of drivers trying to reach their families, just as we were. The news on the radio was grim and frightening, so much was going on and there was much misinformation about what was actually happening. After Tania dropped me off, I logged onto AOL to see how the online world was reacting and what they were saying. Smartphones didn’t exist back then, so life “connected” was usually experienced in the privacy of your own home, something I had been doing for over a decade at the time. I had found some friends and they were freaking out like everyone else, wondering if people they knew were safe. As the day progressed more reports came in, and we mourned collectively as nation. We didn’t know what the world was going to be like the next day, and everyone went to bed that night with a certain level of uncertainty.
The next couple of days saw our nation rallying together like I hadn’t witnessed since the Gulf War. People were grouping up on street corners waving flags, holding up posters and cheering on drivers all times during the day or night. We were helping and supporting each other, looking past any and all differences to demonstrate that as a united nation, we were unstoppable. Many people initially wanted to turn the middle east into a “parking lot” or a “sheet of glass,” as descriptive examples of nuclear warfare littered conversations. However, many people realized that doing so would make us no better than our attackers, and during this time of crisis, we needed to make sure we targeted only those responsible for the pain and suffering so many had experienced. I remember interfaith services in the lobby of my employer’s headquarters, people hugging, crying and consoling each other. We were making promises to never forget and to remain united and strong for all time. Still, many found it very acceptable to demonstrate hatred and rage towards people of the Muslim faith, while at the same time professing unwavering patriotism.
Friday marked the 19th anniversary after the September 11th attacks. I started to write this post and suddenly decided I needed to re-experience the events of the day by watching it on YouTube, almost as a way to honor those lost… and the day we all joined hands. It doesn’t take a college professor to realize that September 11th changed us a country forever. We began to torture our captives to get answers and information about possible threats, while our freedoms and rights to privacy were attacked by our own government in exchange for perceived safety. Hatred was given a license to operate by many, and that permission has grown exponentially… all in the name of patriotism. The horrible events of September 11th had been burned into the collective psyche of so many, that any demonstration of anger or resentment to our own country or people, was akin to being a traitor. I remember this kind of mentality even inserted itself into my own consciousness for a while, after becoming so incredibly upset during a phone conversation I had with a guy I was courting online. I was literally scared that his anger towards the United States would cause him to be flagged by law enforcement, and I quickly found myself avoiding him at all costs. I considered him to be radical, and in retrospect, he was simply being truthful about our nation’s involvement overseas. His remarks weren’t any different from what many commentators and journalists say on the news today, it was literally just “too soon. “
I find myself feeling angered at times when I see younger people posting about geopolitics online, and what we should or shouldn’t be doing about certain situations abroad. I know it’s not fair to them, but they’ll never know what it’s like to be so aware of the events of September 11th as they unfolded live almost twenty years ago. Many of them were still watching Saturday morning cartoons and knew more about brands of cereal than they did about the names of countries in the Middle East. They will never know about how our country used to be like, how it was to walk your family members directly to the gate of an airplane, and kiss them goodbye with your shoelaces still tightly secured. They will never know how unified we were, and don’t realize the hatred they spew towards flag kneelers has part of its roots in that awful day. Their version of “freedom” is not the same as mine, and they’ll never know the world used to view us as one of the good guys, and not just a military power kicking ass everywhere. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ve learned when they say to “never forget” September 11th, it wasn’t about holding a grudge towards a certain faith, it was about how we felt the day after… a nation undivided.