September 11, 2001.
There are only a few dates in a person’s life that can be recalled in perfect clarity. Dates where your memories are supercharged by the emotions felt that day, dates that haunt your dreams and whose events can be replayed like an old video.
My wedding day is one such day for me. The other is not nearly so happy: September 11, 2001.
It was my first day off from work in nearly two months, and I rewarded myself by sleeping in that morning. I was sitting at my kitchen table, a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper (yes, back then, a newspaper was not unusual) in front of me when my wife hollered from the living room. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center!” she yelled. “It’s on the TV. Come and see!”
I’m ashamed to admit that my first reaction was that it was a bad accident, but one I had been expecting for years. After all, those two skyscrapers jutted out, almost into the air lanes at the very southern tip of Manhattan. That no pilot had accidentally run into them before I considered a miracle.
I went into the living room, coffee in hand. My wife had the Today show on. They were showing the smoke pouring from the building via a helicopter shot and Matt Lauer was babbling about the WWII bomber that ran into the Empire State Building. I remember thinking that as much as I had dreaded a pilot losing his way and flying into one of those towers, I couldn’t wrap my head around how one had done so on that morning. The weather seemed so perfect, the skies so clear, that it seemed impossible that a pilot couldn’t have seen where the hell he was flying.
Fast forward a bit, and the first reports came in that air traffic controllers had lost contact with the plane before the crash. “Maybe the pilot had a stroke,” I remarked to my wife. It was 9:01 am. I remember the time because I had glanced at the wall clock as I turned to go back into the kitchen. I was hungry and about to root around for some food.
2 minutes later, my wife was screaming, “Another plane just crashed into the South Tower!” It was the moment our world changed. Because at that moment, I knew this wasn’t an accident. It was a planned, coordinated attack on the very heart of our economic might, on symbols of our national strength. Someone had just declared war on the United States.
Do you remember how you felt at the moment you first realized that? I do. I was pissed off. And confused, because like most Americans I had no idea who it might be. I had never heard of Al Queada, and never in a million years would I have guessed a bunch of cave dwelling goat herders could be sophisticated enough to use our own aircraft to attack us.
After that, of course, came the mad scramble. I called my store, told my employees to lock up and head home for the day. Called my DM to tell him what I did and why (like a lot of people, he was already at work and had no idea what was going on yet). And then the phone lines were jammed – nobody could a call through, which just added to my wife’s anxiety. I wasn’t certain if it was another attack or just everyone in the country trying to call one another, but I wasn’t taking chances. We raced to the school to grab our kids, just in case this was a precursor to a larger attack.
Of course, there were two more attacks that morning: flight 77 rammed into the Pentagon, and the heroes of flight 93 averted a major disaster by taking back their plane and crashing it before it reached Washington.
At 9:59, the South Tower collapsed – and like everyone else, I was shocked. One plane brought down a 1000 foot skyscraper? A few minutes later, the North Tower followed it’s sister to its death.
I was numb. I was angry. I was afraid.
And I wanted whoever had done this to be beaten to a bloody pulp, heads ripped from their necks, a pike driven so far up their asses that when it rained they could get a colonic.
When a date is so traumatic, so vivid, that it can be shared by a generation, it is a milestone event, a moment in history that can galvanize and define nations. Such is September 11.
God bless those who lost their lives that day and the men and women who toiled for weeks after to search for survivors and perished as a result.
May God bless the United States.