Musings: Remembering September 11th

It’s been 19 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the (foiled) attempt on the U.S. Capitol. Though nearly two decades have passed, the memory of that day remains clear in my mind, and likely always will. Where were you on that day?

On that day, I was working for a company in downtown Seattle, in one of the most recognizable high-rises (at least at that time – the city’s skyline has changed enormously since then). My employer was an early adopter of working from home arrangements, and a co-worker and I shared a desk and alternated days we came into the office. I was particularly grateful for the WFH days because I was a ferry commuter, often commuting upwards of two hours a day. Having those two+ hours a day back meant getting more sleep and being less harried – good for my health and good for my productivity.

I was getting my day started when I realized I had a voicemail message awaiting me. It was from my desk-sharing partner, and I was alarmed by it – her voice sounded strange, anxious, and she was calling to tell me not to come into the office…on a day that was my regular WFH day. I was concerned and confused. Until I turned on the tv.

The morning news was showing the Twin Towers in flames…and, as I watched in disbelief, a plane flew into the second tower. It was like watching a movie, with the added horror of knowing it was actually happening. That people had died and were dying. And not knowing why it was happening – was it a terrible accident? After watching the footage on tv, over and over again, of the planes hitting the towers created a definite sense of intention…but why? It was unfathomable.

As the day wore on, I was still transfixed by the incomprehensible horror on tv. I saw the planes hit the Twin Towers, the skyscrapers in flames and collapsing, people running for their lives. It was a hellish scene, and I was only watching it unfold, spared the nightmare of actually being there. Aghast, I couldn’t look away.

Eventually, I did look away. And I returned to the office – in what was one of the highest buildings in downtown. It was eerie, the skies silent because planes were grounded. Later, when planes were cleared to fly over downtown airspace again, I found myself flinching, maybe even reflexively ducking, as they flew overhead as they had done so many times before; it was simply creepy after the terrorist attacks to be in close proximity to both skyscrapers and overhead jetliners.

Though nearly two decades have passed, that event remains burned into my brain. Such horror, including the footage that was later released of people leaping from the burning towers (the despair they must have felt!), followed by the heroism of first responders and many others who came to the aid of the people directly affected by the attacks, the incredible courage of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 in preventing the plane from (likely) reaching the White House…in shock, grief, and concern for our country’s future, Americans came together. We were united in a desire to prevent this type of offense from happening again.

And yet, less than 20 years later, we are arguably more divided now than we had been prior to 9/11/2001. Americans are engaging in violence against one another – based on ideology. What happened to “agreeing to disagree”? What happened to tolerance?

It’s sad that the country seems to have forgotten how we were once united, once pulling together, in matters more important than which political party an individual supports. Once, not that long ago, true heroism and selflessness were displayed by Americans in the most admirable of pursuits: saving and preserving lives. All lives.

Today, I want the 9/11 heroes to know that I remember them and their sacrifices, including the ongoing sacrifices of first responders who have fallen ill from their exposure to toxic substances at ground zero. I remember the innocent people who were injured or killed just going about their workday lives. I remember a country where a collective sense of pride jolted people from their complacency and self-absorption. I’ve seen us be admirable, patriotic people, and I hope that we can one day be better than we are now.