Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/11 Revisited

I think every generation has a "where were you when," moment. For my grandparents, it was Pearl Harbor. For my parents, it was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Or Martin Luther King Jr. Or Robert Kennedy. For the early generation Xers, like mny Aunt Tricia, I think it was probably the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Now, of course, my grandparents will remember where they were when the Kennedys and King were assassinated, as well as where they were when the Challenger exploded. Indeed, I remember where I was that day.
But I was too young then to appreciate what happened. But all of these events represent a loss of innocence. An episode in life that changed everything. Like Martin Scorcese put it once, "a national car crash."
For my generation, for me and my friends, the day that changed everything was of course, September 11, 2001.
I debated blogging about this, and I'll tell you why. I think if we dwell on things too long, they become dangerous. When I was editor in chief of The Current at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, I debated whether or not to do any coverage of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the year 2003. It was only a scant two years later, and indeed there were memorials and other services planned both in the city of St. Louis and on campus. In the end I decided against covering these events, aside from where they ran as general announcements. I made a purely emotional decision that with time, must come healing.
I still believe that is true. The eighth anniversary of that dark day just passed two hours and twenty three minutes ago. I saw that a couple channels were showing special programming dedicated to the attacks. I didn't want to watch them, but inevitably I did end up turning one of them on, on MSNBC. It took me back to that day.
I was at Southeast Missouri State University. I was sharing an apartment with three other guys, and we had a television set up in the living room. I was doing some last second studying for a chemistry test, when one of my roommates, Landon, knocked on the door and told me there had been an accident in New York.
"What kind of accident," I asked.
"A plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers," he replied.
All thoughts of chemistry vanished. I set it aside and joined the other three in the living room with a cup of coffee that was soon forgotten.
We stared in shock as reports came in of smoke and fire and destruction.
My roommate Greg wondered aloud how many people work in the Twin Towers.
I said, "Tens of thousands I am sure. Those things are like 1600 feet tall."
How, we wondered, could someone have made an error like that? Who fell asleep at the switch?
We were still safely living in the idea that this was accidental. ABout 15 minutes or so after I joined my roommates, something caught our eye at the edge of the screen.
My roommate Aaron caught it first.
" that another plane?" he asked. The shock was evident in his voice.
We watched in horror as the plane collided with the second tower, and a fire ball billowed from the opposite side of impact.
We were stunned, speechless. Seconds seemed to spin into hours.
And then I said, "This was no accident. We are under attack." This was around, oh 9:05 or so in the morning. We kept watching in shocked horror.
Then reports came in that the Pentagon had been hit. The Pentagon. This hit me harder than the WTC. And I'll tell you why. I had known from a documentary on the Pentagon that it was supposed to be well nigh impervious. Missles buried in the ground. Persistent anti-attack measures. They were, apparently, worthless against a 747.
I had to get up to leave. I had a class. Old Testament Literature it was called. I had to force myself away. My class was at 10.
I got in the car and drove to campus, with Cape Girardeau's local news station, which was patched in to a New York station, on the radio. As I was listening, I heard the reporter say that one of the towers had just collapsed.
I couldn't believe it. I kind of zombie-walked into class. I was the last one there. It was around 10:05. No one else knew the tower had collapsed. My professor saw me and asked what had happened. I said, "One of the towers just collapsed."
He stopped for a second, looked around at everyone, and said, "Go home." He knew we wouldn't be able to focus on Dacvid and Bathsheba that day.
I turned around and left, walking to my car on numb feet, driving home, thinking of how many hundreds, if not thousands are hurt. By then, the rampant speculation had begun. 10,000 dead? 30,000?
Right around 10:30 that morning, pretty much right after I walked through the door, the second tower collapsed. But this point we were almost numb. It was then that we got an email from the school saying classes were cancelled for that day and the next. There was no fear of a terrorist attack at SEMO, they said, but out of respect for those lost, the school would close.
I was a member of the SEMO paper then, and had to go to work, as it were. We put together pretty much the same type of newspaper people were putting together across the globe.
Then I had to go to work at Schnucks. I was a checker. Ask me how many people were in there that night. I checked out, maybe, three people in a six hour shift. It was so slow that the manager on duty consented to bringing down the television in the break room so we could see President Bush's remarks about the day.
For many of us in my age group, this represented a loss of innocence. Things would never be the same, and indeed they haven't. But on a purely psychological level (and I say this even though I detest psychology), there was a massive shift. We could no longer look at the oceans as a deterent. For so long, the Pacific and the Atlantic were viewed as the greatest natural deterents. No more. We had been hit on the mainland. We had been hit in our hearts, our minds, our souls.

I don't like to relive the events of that day. I don't particularly enjoy replaying them in my mind. It hurts too much. But, I have those memories forever. They are etched into my mind like no other national event. But, I think the time has come for us to start backing away from these things. It's been eight years. Let us know start the healing in earnest. I feel it has taken too long. This will be the last time I ever write out the events of that day as I remember them. It is my effort to let those old wounds heal.

1 comment:

  1. Some wounds never heal, Jason. I know that sounds pessimistic, but it is true. For those who lost loved ones that day, for those firefighters and police officers who went there to save people, for those who survived, for those who made mistakes that allowed those men to get on the planes. When you stop talking about something, you have stopped acknowledging it. When you do that, not only do you hurt those involved, you also fail to educate people in the future. I have a child who was not even two months old on 9/11 and one who wasn't even born that I will someday have to explain this to. Even though it was the most horrific event I've witnessed in my life, I owe it to my children--we all owe it to future generations--to explain this to them. I believe we owe it to those that were lost to remember.

    As a country, we will never be the same. We can never get back to that time before 9/11. The scars are always there and sometimes they will not bother you and other times they will hurt like hell. For some people, it would hurt more to forget than to remember.

    That's actually something to keep in mind for many sad, terrible events in life.