courtesy of MatthewBradley
As we stop today to take a moment to remember, some of the staff here at WeLoveDC wanted to share our own thoughts about this tragic day in our history with our readers. Please feel free to share your thoughts in comments – but we do ask that you be respectful. (Comments will be moderated as necessary.)
Seven years ago today, two generations lost their innocence.
For years, I’ve heard the stories from my grandparents about December 7, 1941. How they felt, where they were. How suddenly, the world they knew changed forever. I didn’t really understand those stories. Not until September 11, 2001.
We all know where we were, what we were doing. How we felt. The confusion, the emotion, the anger, the loss.
Today is not a day of politicizing, of recrimination, or of rhetoric. Today is a day when we remember and honor those who lost their lives, who saw hopes and dreams cut short. A day when we all lost our innocence – and when we came together.
I wasn’t in DC at the time; we still lived in Pittsburgh. My work was near the Pittsburgh International Airport. The mass confusion and rumors were rampant, since Flight 93 was in the air near the city for a time before it crashed in Somerset.
My reflections of that day are a fusion of emotions. We spent more time in our store comforting one another, trading tidbits of news gleaned from radio and television, our glances nervously watching the skies. Military planes and helicopters were streaking overhead, a far cry from the usual passenger jets that were a constant stream before. Soon after, as the state police closed down our plaza, the silence in the skies was more profound than anything we saw on the news or heard on the radio. It was as if our nation had become mute with shock, trying desperately to understand.
However, what sticks out in my mind most of all was the way we all came together, not just as a community, but as a nation. A deep wounding we suffered in New York and DC, to be sure. But as a testimony to all of us, we pulled together. We began the healing process. Despite our loss of innocence, despite our grief, side by side we came together as a country and offered our shoulders to one another. We were of one accord.
I was proud of our nation then. And I’m still proud of it now. Let us remember the fallen today, mourn our losses. We may not have known the victims personally, but they are still our own. Because they were just like you and I.
They were Americans.
Land of the free, home of the brave. This is where we live, who we are.
We will not forget.
–Ben H. Rome
I was a continent away when the plane came crashing into the Pentagon. I was trying desperately to get home from a short vacation, bookended by a few days of work travel. I was at LAX, checking in for my early morning flight when the world came apart. Instead of security guards scanning bags by X-Ray, Los Angeles’ finest stood at the metal detectors, weapons drawn.
It took me the better part of a week to come back to DC, by train and automobile. Our train was late leaving LA, and later still arriving into New Orleans, meaning I missed my connection to the Crescent bound for DC. Three of us, not content to make it that far and then have to stop again for a few days, rented a car from the airport and drove into DC. We came into the city, all of us exhausted and unshowered, on a sunny Sunday morning. Flags were hanging from the open windows of the Senate and House office buildings ringing the still-standing Capitol.
We knew everything was fine. We knew it. We’d seen pictures of DC, everything still in one piece, but we needed to take it in with our own eyes. Our slow tour around the Capitol with the windows down and the fall air flowing through the car made real to us that our home was safe again, even if wounded.
This day has, as a political football, been used to justify all manner of bad behavior by both individuals and governments, at the behest of those who died that day. I remember most my return to DC in its aftermath, and the love I felt for my adoptive home.
It was a weekday morning, but unlike most weekday mornings I didn’t wake to the alarm. I was in San Francisco. My cell phone kept ringing and ringing. I finally stumbled up to answer it and heard my mother – in hysterics – asking me where I was.
The day before I had flown home from New York City. I spent the weekend to catch up with friends. One of them had given me a quick tour of a shopping center – this one in the base of the World Trade Center. We joked that she would be willing to take me to the restaurant on the top floor, as long as the expense account was paying. That morning she was trapped for hours in her Battery Park apartment, and when I finally tracked her down we talked by IM until she was evacuated by boat for New Jersey. Her cat got to stay behind and watch the dust settle. Both are fine now, but neither lives in Battery Park anymore.
Looking back at that day, I realized it was the time that we, as a people, took another step towards adulthood. We finally joined the world community in understanding what bombing from the air could do to change our views of the world and ourselves. Our citizens died, and our great buildings fell in splinters. And we discovered that we, like everyone else, are not immortal.
I wish I could say I was proud of our response, but in our normal fashion we both showed our best and worst after that day. Firefighters, courageous beyond understanding, showed our compassion and our ability to hope. In DC unknown, unheralded, people ran in to burning flames to rescue those that could be rescued, and walked home across closed bridges without complaint. Our government, in a sad balance, showed that we can take any great event and scatter it to no purpose. On that day we discovered, like teenagers who get in auto accidents, that we are not invulnerable. Nor are we immune. And the world, for as much as we hold ourselves above it, is a part of us as much as we are a part of it.
That day we lost our invincibility. And, finally, we can say to our cousins around the world “we know how it feels”. And no, it doesn’t feel good.
But it did make us feel.
Such a horrid thing to experience. I was living near Albany at the time and [my wife] was in Worcester and she was supposed to take the bus out that night to visit but Greyhound stopped running. Then Amtrak stopped and it was very hard to find a way to be together. No bus, train, plane… She got one of the last rental cars available and came out to NY and I remember a sense of relief when she finally got there, like things would be okay for us.
On 9/11 around lunchtime I took my group at work on a walk through the woods outside our office. We needed to get outside and mostly walked in silence, a stray comment here and there. “How many do you think died?” my coworker asked. He was my age, and I can still remember how his brow twisted as he asked the question. I looked down the Hudson River and thought in terms of attendance at baseball games. That’s how I think of large numbers of people – by a time I was at a Durham Bulls game and the park had sold about 10,000 tickets. I remember how packed the people were, all the seats filled and the voices lifting as the game went on.
Of course, at the time we had no idea how many could have perished but I guessed about 10,000. Part of me wanted to be there to help folks, perhaps in a makeshift hospital, and I thought of jumping in the river, making my way down the Hudson, taking advantage of the unending current to carry me to where I could do something.
But something really broke my heart about the days after 9/11. It was the sense of powerlessness. I was hoping to go down to NYC to assist and they were turning folks away because of all the volunteers already there. The lines stayed long at the Red Cross blood centers but then they closed the doors because they didn’t need nearly as much as they had hoped. I would read and watch TV and couldn’t escape it but also couldn’t do anything tangible to help. To me, that was the worst. When my country and fellow humans needed me most, I couldn’t step up and offer a hand.
I think it is safe to say that possibly everyone in the Northeast was at most two degrees of separation away from someone who was lost or else directly affected by being there. It’s something like I hope we will never see again. I hope next time the whole country is brought together by something so emotionally charged we can all have positive memories from it and a greater sense of love for each other, instead of hatred, fear and anger. Those days seem so distant, so remote from the world we live in today, but I think hope is the key to making this happen.
–Carl Weaver (reprinted from Jonny Goldstein’s page)
Thank you for letting us share.