I have spent the morning reliving the images and words of that beautiful pre-fall morning 10 years ago… a morning that went from beautiful to horrific in the moments following impact of a commercial airliner into the first Twin Tower.
We stood watching news coverage on the morning of the attack, unsure – just like the newscaster – of what had just happened. We were getting our sons ready to go to Nana’s. Tyler was 11 and Zachary had just turned 7. Rodney, my husband, homeschooled the boys, but on Tuesdays he delivered the local weekly newspaper, so Tyler and Zach would spend part of the day at my parents’ house doing independent study work.
At that time, I worked for the newspaper as a reporter and managing editor. Since it was the day after we put the paper to bed – deadline day – our morning was more lax and we were running a bit late. I stopped in front of the television and watched the tower burning, not quite sure what I was seeing, convinced that the tragedy must have been an accident.
And then, along with the rest of the country and world, I watched the second plane hit and was struck by a realization that I had just seen the world change.
Despite being a journalist whose job it is to know the news, my focus and concentration was our community. Being in the Midwest, my attention was even more removed from terrorist plots and activity in the Middle East. New York City seemed a world away. I was oblivious to the existence of a man named Osama bin Laden, who leaders quickly began speculating had orchestrated this terrorist attack on American soil.
At the newspaper office – an old house converted into the community’s news hub – I heard that name – Osama bin Laden – for the first time from a former staffer spouting about terrorists being responsible for the attack. The details of the conversation escape me, but that was my first exposure to the name that has since become a household word epitomizing evil.
As a journalist, I just wanted to do something, record what was happening and how my community and our people were reacting, responding, coping. In the hours and days that unfolded, we learned about fear. We learned about patriotism. We learned about coming together as neighbors and fellow Americans.
I began to realize that my children would never know or remember a world before September 11, 2001. They would never live in a world where terrorism was something that happened far, far away. They would never experience the innocence that existed before terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and crashed United 93 into a Pennsylvania field.
My children would never know a world far removed from the fear that erupted that day. It’s even possible they won’t recall the short-lived patriotism that unfolded and held us together those first few days and weeks. That was an amazing phenomenon. It was a beauty to witness, but even that is an event my sons may never remember or fully be able to embrace.
The extremists who attacked our country sought to spread fear, and they succeeded. Laws and procedures have been implemented since that time in fear that new attacks could occur if rules are too lenient. But in the process, our basic human rights are compromised. Our privacy is violated. Our ability to execute a simple task like getting a driver’s license takes monstrous effort. Everywhere we go, obstacles we encounter are reasoned by the words, “Well, since 9-11…”
The terrorists succeeded. They propagated an immense fear we as a nation will never shake. Fear keeps us from fully living.
If we want to combat the terrorists and shake off the effects of those attacks, we need to live our lives. We need to step out of fear and truly live without hesitation.
Watching the anniversary footage today seems even more personal this year.
Last year, on the morning of September 11th, Rodney, Zachary and I were walking the streets at Ground Zero, peering through the tall safety gate around construction equipment commissioned to continue cleanup and build a memorial.
We pushed through crowds on Church Street as bagpipers squeaked out mournful tunes in front of the steel cross pulled from the wreckage and erected to overlook the street.
Our feet carried us along the sidewalks on Vesey and Church streets. We watched protestors hand out literature and hold signs of conspiracy, while family members stood silently beside makeshift memorials. Choirs and individuals cropped up in formal and impromptu performances, harmoniously offering their own remembrances.
People pushed and chattered. Sidewalk prophets shouted Armageddon prophecies and hateful words at those who simply walked by oblivious of their rants. Confusion, crowds and commercialism embodied our moments at Ground Zero, robbing us of that solemn moment of reflection I anticipated. I suppose I expected a quiet hush surrounding the spot where so many lost their lives and loved ones. That wasn’t the case.
Even though I watched our world change from the Midwest 10 years ago, I was no less affected, but now that I’ve walked the area surrounding the remains of those two World Trade Center buildings and have felt the ambiance of that world center of commerce and culture known as New York City, I feel even more connected – like this far-off place is closer to home.
My understanding of this historic tragedy seems even more real now, but the terror has less control. Life goes on. And that is a concept that NYC has embraced. That city has overcome and given us an example of how to be – to embrace the positives the city has to offer, as well as the beauty of all venues and homes across this country.
The terrorists will not win if we dedicate our days to living, to dreaming, to moving fearlessly forward.
All life is beautiful, precious and short. Live each moment without regret and without fear. That is the lesson of September 11, 2001.