Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The Day the World Came Undone

Ever since I was born, Kennedy has been assassinated and dead;  Pearl Harbor bombed by the Japanese and recovered from ruins.  These are things that have really had little emotional impact on my life.  I tried not to cry at the movie Pearl Harbor, and I left with a guilty weight of hate of Japanese.  I have come to appreciate Kennedy through his political writings and saw him come to life in many movies including the recent 13 Days. 
Besides blips on a screen or a line from a textbook, those events have never been more than shadow of my history and heritage as an American.  Never have I laid in bed crying over those who were required to sacrifice their dreams and future for what they believed America to be.  I have swelled with patriotic pride at the humble thought of what cost has been paid for me to lie peacefully in my bed.  I love my country and I firmly believe America is God’s chosen land.  I realize that what I have didn’t come easily or without price, but it was only a faithful realization.
Today… a day which will live in infamy…   Pearl Harbor became real. 
Today I cried myself sick. 
The World Trade Center twin towers collapsed today after commercial airliners struck both buildings within minutes of each other. 
My initial exposure to the attacks came as a alerting surprise as I switched the from my tape to the radio.  I tuned to X96.3, and they were ghastly recapping the unfolding events.  Both planes had crashed into the buildings when I tuned in.  Of the three X96 DJs, Cary, Bill, and Gina, I remember Gina begin to get emotional as she questioned whether people were on the planes (at this time the size or type of flight or plane was unknown, as was the motive of terrorism still an assumption).  X96 quickly switched to a local New York radio broadcast that briefly depicted the scene and called all firemen to respond.  Hearing that emergency response call being made over the radio would later come to mean a lot to me.  I quickly tuned to AM radio KSL1160 to try and receive a more accredited source on the attacks.  KSL had tuned their station a CBS television broadcast in which President Bush gave grief remarks on the situation from Florida then went to an interview with a terrorist expert to try and determine his opinion in whether the attacks were of a terrorist nature. 
As I arrived at school I parked and quickly raced To Mr. Loose’s room (AP Human Geography) to view the news.  As I walked the halls I heard a few kids recalling what they had heard to others.  At this point as I walked down the hall to class, my conscious was clear.  In today’s world, my world, My generation has grown up hearing of these terrorist attacks and such:  the L.A. riots, Oklahoma City building (I still remember being at Clint Mower’s house when I heard that news), the bombing of the same World Trade Center, Columbine, the 1998 bombings of the two US embassies, the bombing of the USS Cole, the list is anguishing to think what I, at seventeen have seen.  To have this turmoil in the world around you, you cannot let it get you emotionally tangled.  And as I walked to class, these acts were alarming, but not emotionally disturbing.  It hadn’t penetrated... yet.
I got to class and Mr. Loose already had the television turned to CNN.  Our class had been scheduled to take a test but as I walked in it was apparent we weren’t going to come away from that TV.  Kids in the class immediately began to crack jokes about the event.  Even though the seriousness hadn’t been conceived in my mind yet, these jokes disgusted me.  Obviously the seriousness hadn’t been fathomed by my classmates either.   Mr. Starr soon came on over the loudspeaker and announced the tragedy, reassured the students of our safety, and permitted the teachers to turn on their TVs’.   This only provoked more ill-fitting jokes. 
Our attention turned back to the news anchor broadcasting live from Manhattan.  We were informed of Manhattan’s closure of all bridges and tunnels. The FAA grounded all flights and diverted all others away from the big airports.  The stock exchange was to be closed.  The reports came in that one of the planes was a 767 hijacked out of Boston.  They showed delayed footage of the second plane’s attack.   In slow motion I witnessed the approach of the plane from the right of the screen.  It neared the towers, then flew behind the smoldering tower in the foreground, then with in seconds an explosion burst from the left side of the rear tower.  A magnificent black and red fireball burst from the building into the sky.  Its heat would later be determined as the crucial factor in weakening the supports that falter and brought about the towers’ collapse. 
That sight – it was enough to begin to make me hurt.  What an unnatural sight.  It honestly seemed straight out of a movie.  I was beginning to worry, but the atmosphere still seemed surreal.  If only that could have been the end.  
The morning agenda had obviously just been trashed by the events, but everyone was assuming that was it.  Mr. Loose turned our attention to the test review which he had written on the board.  This was in place of our real test that was now postponed.  Just as the jokes were dying down and Mr. Loose was returning our minds to Geography, the reported announced braking news that the Washington Mall had erupted into flames.  The image on the screen of the smoking World Trade Centers with its headline of the plane wrecks suddenly split into double pictures of footage, side-by-side, of the smoking Towers and the newly erupted Washington Mall. 
On the screen, backed by a bold block of red, came the headline “America Under Attack.”
Who in their worst nightmare could have anticipated?  Within seeming moments the pentagon replaced the picture of the Mall, itself billowing smoke.  I will never forget the eye contact made between Mr. Loose and myself at that moment.  Fear emanated from his eyes and was certainly reflected in mine.  Unbelief took control of everyone’s facial features.  Mouths gaped. 
Certainly now our Nation was under attack and seemingly defenseless.
What next?  Now it seemed we were at the mercy of someone who had no regard for human lives.  There was no hope of decency as we continued to watch.
The FAA said it had lost track of four planes, three being now accounted for: two in New York, and the third at the Pentagon.  But a fourth was still missing.   Announcements streamed in of buildings being evacuated.  The Sears tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building, the blacks surrounding the Trade Center, the White House, the Capital Building, then all government buildings in Washington. 
The nation didn’t breathe in fear that taking another breath would bring news of a new catastrophe.  It seems I held my own breath for hours.  As I let my own breath relax, the picture of the trade center filled with a cloud of smoke. 
Now it was denial.  It couldn’t happen.  Not the World Trade Center.  But as the screen turned into shot of rescuers stampeding away from the Towers being overrun by Hell’s very storm, it was certain the first tower had collapsed. 
The scene struck fear into me as genuinely as if that rolling cloud of debris was chasing me through the streets.  As the sounds of the morning’s early New York radio station broadcast calling all firefighters played through my head mixed with the television’s rampaging screams, my ears rang until it brought a tear to the corner of my eye. 
There was still hope for the second tower.  At that moment, it didn’t feel right to make room for hope when the anguish was so overcoming.  But the tower had been hit higher.  It didn’t have as much weight unsupported.  It could still make it.  More would die if it didn’t.
The unwelcome hope was soon disillusioned as the second tower came down upon itself bring a halo of wreckage down about it.  Physical pain filled overcame me.  A twisted knot deep inside turned over and over.  It was a feeling that accompanied me for the day.
As the news rolled on, scenes of people running in terror, news anchors crying, and political figureheads solemn in address blurred together.  The many reports that would fill my head all became one big nightmare. 
Another plane crashed in Pennsylvania.  They said it as if it happened twice a day.  It seemed trivial in contrast.  It was just another number.  Fourth plane, more dead. 
Numbers are such a disgusting representation of human life.  As I thought of the plane, it deserved more than to be just a fourth tally of the day.  Terrorism makes people numbers, and it is the more horrific than anything.  Love, Families, Dreams, Education, Careers, Friends, God – Numbers.

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