It seems a long time since the attacks on 9/11/2001; and it seems like yesterday. That’s a trick your mind plays on you with traumatic memories: putting a healing distance between then and now, all the while indelibly imprinting the memory so it always seems fresh; easily recalled as clearly today as when it occurred.
In 2001 I was living in Michigan, a business man who worked out of his home office. That morning, I got my coffee and walked down to my office. It was just a few minutes before 9am on a crystal clear autumn morning. My office had a large window, and as I sipped my coffee I looked out at squirrels playing on my lawn.
As always, I turned on my computer. Back then, Yahoo was my Homepage. As it booted-up, I glanced over and saw the “breaking news” banner: A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
I walked over to the living room and turned on the news. Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, the live feed from New York City showed the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a huge bloom of smoke pouring from a gigantic rent high on the side of the building.
The commentators in the news studio were speculating as to what could have caused a plane to somehow drift off its flight path and into the World Trade Center. They weren’t sure at that point if it was a small private plane, or a commercial aircraft. At that moment (it was now 9:03am) the second airliner came into view on the screen. A nano-second later, it crashed into the side of the South Tower.
I think I said something trite, like “OMFG!”; and sat my coffee down with a shaking hand.
One female commentator asked if something could be badly wrong with the local Air Traffic Control computers; perhaps erroneously vectoring planes into Mid-Town Manhattan. That question was just as quickly quelled by her partner, who stated (correctly) that this must be a deliberate act of terrorism.
At some point after that, people started jumping out of the burning buildings.
I called my wife, who was working at a local hospital; leaving her a message to call me.
At 9:39, the third plane struck the Pentagon.
I think at that point, I must have gone into a altered state of consciousness; a sort of state of shock. I grew weirdly calm, detached, emotionally uninvolved with the disasters unfolding on the television.
Leaving the television on in the background, I decided this was a good day to paint my house.
Now, for those who know me, that is proof enough that I was in shock. I am not the home-fixer-upper type. But that morning, as the Towers collapsed (“Huh, you don’t see that every day!”) and Jet fighters were scrambled as there were reports of a fourth plane heading toward the Capital, I think my subconscious needed something exceedingly mundane to ground itself in a reality it could process.
I am a veteran of Special Forces, and someone who has faced very difficult and deadly situations before. I don’t normally “lose it”.
But on that otherwise beautiful September day, Barry had “checked out of the net” (as we used to say on the Teams). Elvis had left the building.
That afternoon and early evening, first my wife and children; then my friends and neighbors gathered at my home. I was relatively calm and still detached, discussing somberly the events unfolding when something happened that broke through my detachment; shattering the barrier my mind was busily erecting to protect me: My wife’s father, a happy alcoholic, decided that so many people in one place constituted a party. He put on music, people began to relax and laugh, talking about other things.
For me, it seemed almost sacrilegious to be partying when so many people were dead or dying, when our country had just suffered the greatest attack since Pearl Harbor.
I exploded. I don’t lose it very often, but I did that evening. I upbraided my father-in-law and those sharing his merriment: Didn’t they understand how inappropriate this was, I scolded?
Before making a complete fool of myself, I walked away. Stepping outside onto my lawn, I stood there in the Michigan evening twilight, and allowed myself to cry.
Here is a compilation of news coverage that morning, after the first plane struck but before the second; as they occurred that day.
Here is Bryan Gumbel reporting that morning just after the Pentagon was hit: