Not Just Another Day
September 12, 2001
As the song says, What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I remember dragging myself out of bed, looking forward to another wonderful day of dealing with customers. I got showered, dressed, and trudged to my pickup for the commute into work. I remember listening to the radio, hoping the music would help wake me up. Hundreds of miles to the north, thousands of people were doing the same thing, not knowing that it would be the last day of their lives.
I had been at work for fifteen minutes when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. At first, I had no idea what had happened. I heard people several cubicles over talking in raised voices. I began to hear “Oh my God!” and “Have you heard?” We all turned on the news.
Eighteen minutes after the first crash, the second plane hit. The news of what was happening spread like wildfire through the hallways of my office building. Everyone stayed glued to radios and televisions, spellbound and horrified as tragedy piled on top of tragedy. North Tower hit. South Tower hit. Then another plane plowed into the Pentagon. Government buildings everywhere evacuated, even the UN. And then, the ultimate tragedy: the World Trade Center collapsed. Everyone in the office was stunned as we watched the secure lives we thought we had, crumbling into smoking ruins. Like the day Kennedy was shot, like the day the Challenger exploded, like the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, everyone is going to remember what they were doing when they heard about the falling of the World Trade Center: the worst terrorist attack in American history.
Today I woke up to a different world. When my clock radio came on to wake me up, I didn’t hear music; I heard footage from Bush’s speech to the nation last night. As I got dressed, I listened to growing body counts. Hundreds dead in the Pentagon. Untold thousands in the World Trade Center, including over 300 firemen and policemen that were rushing to save lives, only to lose their own as the building caved in on top of them. When I got into my truck, the radio was giving the locations of drop-off centers for donations.
As I drove to work, I studied my fellow commuters, something I rarely do. Many of their faces showed the same expression of numb horror that I’m sure was on my own. Many of them were probably listening to the same words I was hearing on the radio. And, like me, I know that many of them have friends or family who may or may not have survived yesterday. I can only imagine their stories, but I know that there are many stories just like them all over the country.
In my rearview mirror I saw a young blonde woman named Wanda in the car behind me. Her eyes were red-rimmed and bruised from lack of sleep. She moved here from Manhattan two years ago, and had many friends that still lived in that area. One of them worked at the WTC on the 80th floor. She had been trying to reach him all night, so far without success.
A few miles further on, I saw an older man in the car to my right. He had a crisp salt and pepper mustache, and was balding. His name was Edward, and his son and daughter were both at the WTC the day before the attack. Ironically, his son was there to apply for a job. They’re both fine.
Ahead of me was Lisa. She was listening to the radio in tears as the number of dead firemen was revealed. She didn’t know anyone in New York, but her husband of less than a year was a fireman, too. She sobbed as she thought about all of the wives of the firemen and policemen in New York who are now widows - something she’s always prayed that she’d never be. But that seems like less of an impossibility now. Last night, she and her husband signed on to http://www.firehouse.com to make a donation to the families of those firefighters who lost their lives in the effort to save others. (this is a real website - check it out.)
Further on, I saw Tim. Unlike many of us, he wasn’t on his way to work. Tim’s sister, Kate, was on Flight 175 out of Boston, heading to Los Angeles on business. Her flight was the second plane to crash into the WTC. With all flights grounded, he was forced to spend the night driving from Virginia to be with his grieving mother, who saw her daughter’s plane explode on live TV.
On the sidewalk, I spied Roohi, a young Muslim woman walking to work. She walked in a daze, numb with shock over the violence that had been delivered upon the country she has called home for the last two years. Besides the senseless tragedy, she had an additional concern: fear that she and husband would be targeted by those who would wrongly blame the Muslim religion for the violence.
As I turned onto Highway 9 in Alpharetta, the disk jockeys on one of the rock stations in Atlanta were chatting with their normally talkative traffic reporter, who had literally not said a word today except to do traffic. They asked him about it, and he broke into tears on the air. I got choked up too - again. That’s been my state since this whole thing started. It’s too much, just too much. This amount of death is incomprehensible to me.
Around me, everywhere I look, everyone I talk to, all I hear about is the disaster. The news sites keep splashing photos of the second plane plowing into the WTC. My coworkers are stunned. My friends are horrified. Everywhere there’s an underlying anger that vibrates in the background like the beginning of a dog’s growl. What am I feeling? Despair. Grief for those who lost their lives. A need for justice, competing with a desire for blind vengeance that leaves me feeling ill. As I struggle to deal with the emotional fallout of this horrible disaster, I can only wonder, and fear, what the future may hold. But one thing is sure: our world just got a little darker. I think I’ll light a candle.
Peace to all,