Fifteen years ago the world was rocked by the news that planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania. Just under 3,000 people in New York lost their lives in an act that is still under scrutiny by many, but that is not the point of this post. I’m sure you’re all aware I have my conspiracies about a number of things, but this is not the time. Those who lost their lives never had the chance to really consider who had put them in such a situation. They just knew they had to act if there was any chance of staying alive.
I remember the day fairly clearly – well parts of it. I remember being in school that morning and feeling like something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just felt something wasn’t normal. I was in fifth grade at the time, with more innocence than many fifth graders have these days, thanks to such acts, and my school pretty much left the decision of making the announcement in the hands of the teachers, from what I recall. I know, one way or another, that my teacher did not tell us what had happened. Being a kind, old-fashioned woman, I imagine she was still doing her best to shield us from the harsh reality that awaited us. Or perhaps she just thought it best to allow our parents to describe the situation to us.
Of course, the secret couldn’t really be kept. Some teachers did tell their students what happened, some even letting their students watch the news while the stories broke. The rumors spread between bathroom breaks and lunch break, one student who was friends with someone in a class that heard the news getting the scoop as best they could before passing it along. Before long we all knew that something had happened, but none of us at that time had the capacity for understanding how to describe just how bad it was.
After school I waited for my mother to pick me up, and heard the workers in the daycare programs talking about it in sort of hushed tones, as there were a variety of age groups gathered around. Still, I gleaned what I could from the conversation, not knowing exactly what buildings had been hit, but picking up that some planes had crashed, one not too far from my Virginia home. Once my mother arrived, the severity of the news began to sink in. She worked for a government agency at that time, in a production company that made parts for night vision goggles, missiles and mining equipment. She told me that many people had been afraid they would also be hit, adding to the panic she had felt. The radio produced a steady stream of news reports of bombings, fires, rescue attempts and a steadily rising death toll.
Once we got home I remember doing my homework and trying to study and read and write while my mother watched news reports that repeatedly showed video of the planes striking the World Trade Center, which I finally recognized as being one of the most memorable parts of the New York skyline. Reports came in of possible retaliation, and eventual bombing in the Middle East. Still with the videos coming in, the reports of death, knowing that many people had lost loved ones in the tragedy, there were two things that really brought it home to me and made me realize just how massive this was and how much it would change the world. They may seem odd, but many of you may also understand.
My mother insisted that we ride out later that evening to get gas because many reports were saying prices would begin to go up, some even suggesting a possible shortage, I think. I remember sitting in the passenger side of the car as we rode through our hometown, trying to find a gas station with lines short enough to wait in. Dozens of cars were lined up at every station we found, as everyone around us had heard the same thing we had – this was, I might add for anyone younger than myself, the last of the $1.00/gallon or less gas prices in our country – and wanted to fill up as quickly as possible. I don’t know for sure why this drove it home for me, but it was very shocking to see that sort of thing in my normally quiet town.
The other thing that really made it sink in was the radio reports that I heard while trying to sleep that night. For a bit of background; music is and has always been a huge part of my life. For many years I would sleep with the radio on all night, and eventually got a radio I could program to go off at a certain time and then be my alarm clock the next morning. Music has always been something that I use to make my life greater. That night, however, things were very different. On the Country station I listened to (I’m not that big of a country fan these days, but I was a product of my location) there was a heavy mix of news reports from all over the world about the event and the reaction to it and a barrage of exceedingly patriotic music (including, if I recall, at least one version of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”). On the rock station I listened to they played a lot of regular music, but it was often interrupted by news reports, sound bites of people crying and sirens. I think the sirens remain one of my most disturbing memories of trying to sleep that night.
As much as I hate the cliché way it sounds, I think I lost a good portion of my innocent view of the world that night. My mother told me at least once during the evening that the world as we knew it was over. I didn’t have a clue what exactly that might mean, but as the next 15 years shaped me and made me the man I am today, I think I have a clear understanding of it. Looking back at how things were before that day – a task which, for me, largely just means looking back on the 90’s – I almost can’t fathom that the world used to be a much easier place to live in. People used to care so much more about one another and be so much more free with their security measures. I will never again walk up to a building with a bag and be certain it won’t be searched. I will never be able to run into an airport ten minutes before a flight takes off and be able to make it onto the plane. My children will never know what it is like to take a plane from one place or another without having their entire person searched relentlessly. My children will never get to see a (recent) movie about New York and see those two, gallant towers dominating the skyline.
I could go on and on about what has changed since that day, but I’m sure those of you who have read this far have probably had enough, as many of you may remember life before the events that shaped the future of U.S. Homeland Security. I would like to hear what you all remember about the day. Leave me a comment below or send me a message sharing the story of your day on September 11, 2001. Were you near one of the sites? How has your life changed since that day? I would love to hear from you and I would really appreciate it if you would share this with anyone who has a story to tell about the day.