That morning 16 years ago had the same feeling as this morning. Crystal blue September skies and a nice, cool breeze before the heat of the vibrant afternoon sun arrived. I wasn’t working that day, as I’m not today. However, 16 years ago, I was between jobs, as they say. I was still a kid, an adult kid, trying to find my way in life. Today, I’m off by choice. Needed one last three-day weekend before summer ends. And, I have lots of odds and ends to accomplish. I figure I’m more likely to do them on a weekday.
I woke up relatively early the morning of September 11, 2001. My significant other at the time was off to work, and I was off to develop yet another life plan. I fired up the old Dell desktop. You know the one – bulky, beige monitor and tower, clunky keyboard. (I still have the speakers and subwoofer from that thing.) I needed to check my Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail , or whatever webmail I was using in the early 2000s.
I’m pretty sure the homepage was set to MSN. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing on the screen… A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I assumed it was some horrible aviation accident. I switched on the TV and started watching CNN. I don’t think I changed the channel for days. I soon realized we weren’t talking about one plane, rather planes, and one was missing somewhere over Pennsylvania. In that moment, sitting alone in the living room in my PJs, the blue skies suddenly seemed surreal. Was I still asleep, dreaming? What would normally be a bustling, Tuesday morning fell still. I was glued to the TV and news on the Web.
I listened for planes in the sky. Nothing but silence. I felt a sense of relief, why, I’m not sure. The initial fear and shock I suppose. Even though we were an entire continent away, the city shut down. My significant other came home early from work. We decided to head downtown, to grab a bite to eat and wander around in the silence. The mall was closed, but lo and behold, Ross Dress for Less was open. I bought a black winter coat, with faux fur around the neck and wrists, a popular look in 2001. 80 degrees and I bought a winter coat. What is more American than spending money on something you don’t really need? I think I ended up wearing that coat once, maybe twice, before shipping it off to the Goodwill.
We returned to our apartment, turned CNN back on, and watched into the wee hours of September 12th. I remember falling asleep on the couch awash in the glow of the television set. I woke up later that morning, knowing nothing would be the same. Boy, was I right, and then some.
I miss not being able to walk right up to the gate and watch as a loved one boards a flight, fighting back tears as the plane slowly rolls away, down the tarmac. We’ve lost something as humans by not being able to experience this. I love traveling, but now getting there and back has become such a burden. Although, I was complimented by one agent on my superior carry-on packing skills. Oh, I studied that guide. Still, kinda sad that I had to.
The flying thing is a mere inconvenience, I know. What strikes me much more deeply is how so many people choose to live in fear these days. Fear of everyone different than them, fear of the world. I thought there would be a little backlash 16 years ago, but not to the extent I see today. Certain individuals have let that day change them, for the worse. Or perhaps it just emboldened them to express how they always really felt about the world and its inhabitants. Who knows? Maybe, with enough time, we’ll get past the fear. I hope.
This morning, I came across an article in my Twitter feed about the photo from 9/11/01 of The Falling Man. It was probably the most poignant and well-written article I’ve read about that awful day. On this day, I choose to remember the individuals who suffered, perished, experienced something no one should have to go through. I’d rather think of the individuals and who they were, their names, life stories, than frame the day as Us vs. Them. The crystal blue skies, vibrant sunshine, and refreshing September breeze make it easier to reflect and to have hope.