The attacks of September 11, 2001, reshaped not only our physical landscape, but also the face of the nation and the course of history. Our lives and the lives of generations to come -- not just in New York or Washington, D.C. or the United States, but around the globe -- were changed forever.
The date, September 11, (which also happens to be both my husband's and my father's birthdays) will for me, forever evoke recollections of unimaginable tragedy. The memories from that day conjure unbelievable images of lives callously lost and brutally cut short and of unspeakable horror and sorrow that were seared into the hearts and minds of all Americans. Many have compared it to Pearl Harbor, and I believe that the effect the events of September 11, 2001 had on us as a nation are very similar -- we wept as a nation united by our love of this great country and ignored the things that had separated us like race, politics, and religion. We were all Americans. But there was a glaring difference between the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1945 and the attacks on 9/11/2001. Advances in technology, media and communication, meant that we all saw the horror with our own eyes.
Ten years ago, I was a first time mom, pregnant with my oldest, living in Georgia just north of Atlanta, and running late to my ultrasound appointment on that Tuesday morning. My husband was coming from work and was meeting me there. At about 10 minutes until 9:00, I was about to get onto I-85, heading towards Atlanta, when my husband called my cell phone and told me to change my radio station from the classic rock that I always listened to and find a news station because a plane had just hit the World Trade Center in New York. I peppered him with questions as I held the phone with my shoulder, held my coffee in my left hand, fiddled with the radio buttons with my right hand, and drove.
"Oh my god. Was it on purpose or on accident?!"
"I don't know it just happened."
"Was it a big plane or a little plane?!"
"I don't know. It literally JUST happened."
"Where on the tower did it hit? Like, at the top?"
"Sweetie, I am in my car. I did not see it. Let me let you go so I can listen."
I later learned that the plane that had hit the North Tower at 8:46 was American Airlines, Flight 11, and had taken off from Boston that morning headed to L.A. By the time we had signed in at the doctor's office, the second plane, United Flight 175, also out of Boston, and headed for L.A. had hit the South Tower. We learned while waiting in that office that the planes were not, as was first hoped, small, single engine Cessna, but they were commercial passenger planes full of people. America was under attack.
We were still in the doctor's office when the Pentagon was struck by a third plane, that we would later learn was Flight 77 out of Virginia, also bound for L.A. When that happened, I began frantically trying to call my parents. I knew that my dad was flying home from Washington, D.C. at some point that week and I couldn't remember when. I HAD to make sure that my dad was on the ground. I HAD to know that he was not in Washington. Most importantly, I HAD to know that he was SAFE. But the cellular network for the entire country was overloaded. Calls would not go through. It was several hours after I got home before I had confirmation that everyone was fine. But they were. I was one of the lucky ones who had not lost any friends or family on that day.
But there were other planes missing.
It is important to point out that even though it was apparent that our country was under attack, there were so very many unknown facts. Add to that the state of shock that everyone was in and you will understand why after my appointment, I went into Atlanta to go to work. When I reached my office, no one was working. Everyone was glued to the TV in the conference room, or frantically searching on their computers for information. The towers had collapsed, Flight 93 out of New Jersey, bound for San Fransisco had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania and the first theories about other possible targets began to emerge. Atlanta was on several of those lists. Without permission and without even asking, I gathered my things and left the office. My house wasn't but about 20 miles north of where I was in Norcross, but it was 20 miles farther from Atlanta than I was now, and I was getting as far away from any possible target as I could. I went home to my husband and sat for the next 2 days transfixed in front of the TV watching the replay of the attacks as new footage was discovered, listening to politicians and newscasters speculate and pontificate, and crying. There was a lot of crying.
There was also anger. I vividly remember images of people burning the American flag, dancing in the streets, and celebrating this tragedy. I remember feeling hatred towards them. I am not proud of that. But I could not believe that these people -- men, women, and even children -- hated us so much that they would rejoice in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Then as the facts of that day came out, I got more and more angry. I wanted revenge on the people that had planned this attack, those who had funded it, those who had sent 19 men to kill 2,977 people, all but 55 of them (all military personnel at the Pentagon) were civilians. The victims ranged in age from 2 to 85, and not one of them deserved to die. In New York alone, an estimated 91,000 police, firefighters and other first responders helped with the search and rescue efforts in the wake of the attacks that day. On the morning of the attacks, a total of 411 emergency workers who responded to the scene died as they tried to rescue people and fight fires. The New York City Fire Department lost 341 firefighters and 2 paramedics. The New York City Police Department lost 23 officers. The Port Authority Police Department lost 37 officers. Eight emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services units were killed. At the pentagon, brave men in uniform ran into literal infernos to pull out victims trapped by the plane and the debris. Because of these people and their willingness to run into the danger, countless lives were saved. They were not victims of the attack but rather they chose to risk their lives to save others because it was their job, because they could, because it was simply who they were. They were heroes.
There were also stories of hope. Stories of how fate, or circumstances, or divine intervention or pure luck had resulted in survival that the media vigorously reported with the hopes that they could somehow help to counter the sadness that had settled over us as a nation and we seized them and retold them as our own over dinner, over water coolers, over phone lines and emails. The 18 people who survived in what became known as the miracle of Stairway B, the first responder who survived because he was running late and had to take his 3 year old daughter to pre-school, the chef who was picking up his new glasses instead of prepping his kitchen at the top of the World Trade Center, or the passengers of Flight 93 who sacrificed themselves and saved countless others at their intended target with 2 little words "Let's roll."
This morning, when I get on my knees and say my prayers, I will pray for all of those who lost loved ones on that day. I will pray for all of those who still carry the engulfing fear of that deadly day. I will pray for all of us who live our lives in a world that was changed forever. Everyone should take a few moments of their lives on Sunday to simply remember the tragedy. Whether it is through a moment of silence, prayer or even simply watching the television, all are valid and important in their own way. And we should always remember that we were attacked that day ten years ago not for what we do wrong but for what we do right. Remember the spirit of that day -- the day America showed what makes us a great people and a great nation; the day the true character of our nation triumphed over unspeakable evil; the day that freedom and democracy prevailed yet again over oppression and tyranny.
We can never forget 9/11/2001.