Where were you when the world stopped turning…?

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.  I saw a headline that likened the day to ‘History Just Like Pearl Harbor.’

Well, that is certainly true.  It was history, just as our births, deaths, celebrations and actions are history.  And yet, for all the significance of our day to day activities, 9/11 somehow stands out as an especial time in history.

  • It was the day people realized that their ‘homeland’ was not immune from attack.
  • It was the day people learned of needs and incidents far greater than their own daily heartaches and activities.
  • It was the day that we learned what it is to be truly helpless.
  • And it was the day that we learned that we could survive, and that heroes really existed.

Russian ‘Tears of Grief’ memorial

(It was also a day I learned that some people are too stupid to live and need to be devoutly ignored:

A woman from Canada on a message board:

Americans need to think, sincerely and without offense, what they did to cause this attack.’

I don’t generally get nasty in public.  You don’t put out there on Facebook or message boards things that you wouldn’t want printed on the pages of the great newspapers of the world.  But my response that time reduced the poster to tears.  And I don’t regret a word.)

I heard the tales of heroism, of the firefighters and rescue workers toiling up the stairs in the Towers against the tide of fleeing people.  Going ever upward to serve and protect and rescue.  Giving their lives.

I never saw the footage of the plane striking the towers.  I missed it, somehow  In later years I decided not to seek it out.

Some months after the attack, I was talking with my father, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  I was saying how humbled I was by the heroism we saw on 9/11. 

Dad frowned thoughtfully.  “We saw heroes,” he said.  “They were everywhere that day, and after.  The people lining up to give blood, to help however they could…  But, you know, if I had to say who the real heroes were that day…”

He fell silent.

“The police and rescue workers?” I suggested.

Dad shook his head.  “They were heroic,” he said.  “But you know, that was the purpose for which they pledged their lives.  To serve, protect, fight if necessary…  And they did it beautifully.  But those people on the plane in Pennsylvania, possibly headed for the U.S. Capitol…  They were everyday folk with the backgrounds they had, caught up in a situation.  And they took action. They were true heroes.”

Maybe so.   Probably so.  Everyone seemed to step beyond their own needs and turn to others’ needs…

It was a day to remember.  One that should not be forgotten or belittled, any more than the other great watersheds of history.

Where were you then?

When the World Stopped Turning

Where were you?

Things that once were…

I was at work.  In fact, I had taken a break and was visiting a favorite site – Cooking Light Message Boards.  Someone posted that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. 

I thought maybe it was one of those traffic choppers or small planes.  I never thought of an airliner among those buildings.  And I never thought of it being done deliberately.

The news came in, worse and worse.  Strikes at the Pentagon, a plane downed in Pennsylvania in an act of true heroism…

A dear friend worked near the WTC: she was safe, thank God, but it scarred her for a long time.

The images that came out of that day – the rescue workers going up the stairs as the people came streaming down.  The rescuers, the protectors.  The heroes.

I will say now that I never watched the footage of the plane hitting the tower.  I somehow missed it that first day and the next two.  I wasn’t avoiding it.  The timing was wrong.  And then someone posted it, and I saw the plane take a turn, head toward the tower –  I switched off the video.  I did not need to see it, and I did not need to see the film of the tower going down.  Not that I am squeamish: my line of work – what I do to put bread on the table – has given me a very strong stomach. 

No, I didn’t want to give those villains any further…what?  credit for their villainy?  Fear?  I stopped puzzling about it.

Some years later I went to New York on business.  I had not realized what a hole the absence of The Towers left in the sky.  They had always been a sort of beacon for me.  My first time in NYC, decades ago, I had gotten lost in a snowstorm.  I needed to find the WTC so that I could go into the subway there.  But I couldn’t read the street signs (covered with snow).  A passer-by, hearing that I was lost and looking for the Towers, smiled and pointed.  And there they were against the winter sky, welcoming me.

That presence was gone.  I was disoriented.  I paused at The Battery – you can see the Statue of Liberty there – and strolled through the park.  And I came upon a battered hunk of bronze that looked somehow familiar. 

It was the globe that sat in the plaza at the World Trade Center.  I had passed it many times.  Battered, broken…  How strange to see it.

Where were you?