Note: Blogger ate this post twice (even after using Word). This is go-around three. Thus why it's late.
The world has really changed. For God's sake, we're afraid to let people carry hair gel on planes. We look at anyone brown and think, "God, I hope he's not on my plane."
For every piece of good news, there's five or six negative.
So let's hit the way back machine, and use Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning."
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 was a nice day in the Twin Cities. I was working as an assistant teacher at a Montessori school in downtown Minneapolis. I had been on the job only two weeks. First teaching job.
I remember being on 94 and seeing the Lowry tunnel ahead of me when the news station I was listening to said, "There's been an accident. A plane has hit the World Trade Center."
Two things happened simultaneously: I called my wife to tell her (she went to work later than I did), and I thought about my sister, who lived so close to the Towers (down the street).
"Honey," I told my wife, "Turn on the news. Apparently a plane hit The World Trade Center."
"Oh my God...," she responded.
I kept driving to work. When I got there, I started talking to a colleague.
"I'm a little bummed," I told her. "A plane hit The World Trade Center. It might be destroyed."
"I heard," she said. It was at this point that our principal came out of her office.
"Turn on the TV," she said. "CNN is showing it."
We saw the burning building...then we saw the other plane hit.
"OH MY GOD!" screamed one of the teachers.
I saw pieces of the building and plane flying everywhere. Again, I started thinking of my sister. What if she was hurt? What if she was dead?
"Tell the other teachers that we're having an assembly," the principal said quietly. "We have to prepare the children."
I stepped away from the assembly to try and reach my sister. I called New York over and over, but to no avail. The calls weren't getting through the system.
I tried my parents, but they were out of town, and their cell phones were off. Slowly panic started to creep over me. I was really worried that my sister wasn't ok. Compounding that fact was my brother-in-law was returing to New York from Canada. I didn't know which planes had crashed.
I called my wife at work.
"Are you watching?" she asked me.
"We're having an assembly," I told her. "Talking to the kids about what's happening."
"You need to see this," she said in a trance-like state. "It's...devestating."
It was at this point that one of the other teachers found me.
"Are you ok?" she asked.
"Sure. Just can't reach my sister. She lives near there."
"Oh my God...."
We left school early that day. Parents arrived eager to hold their children, and no one wanted to be there.
I was one of the guilty ones that day. Upon arriving back at my apartment, I turned on the TV, and I never moved. I saw the towers fall (for me the first time, but on TV who knows what number time they were showing it). I saw the people running. I saw a city that I love very much in total and utter panic.
And I still couldn't reach my sister.
The destruction of the Towers was hard for me, because the World Trade Center held two very special memories for me.
The first dealt with the first time I took my wife to New York. She had never been to the East Coast before that trip. We walked to the World Trade Center, and I watched as she marveled at its size. She's a good Midwestern gal who had only ever seen skyscrapers like that in Chicago...from the highway. This was the first time she had been up close to a building this large. Her wonderment reminded me of my second memory:
My father took my for a tour of the World Trade Center. It's the earliest memory I have of my father and I doing something together.
When I was five, he took me to the Towers. We went up all the way to the top and looked out at the world. At five years old, I was frightened. I kept thinking that I was going to somehow fall out of the building and drop to my death. My father, not really known for being overly affectionate, held my hand when I told him I was scared.
When those Towers fell, that memory almost felt destroyed. I watched a piece of my childhood disappear.
On the night of 9/11, my wife and I kept watching the news. Finally, after hours of waiting, I heard from my sister. She was ok. St. Vincent's Hospital (near where she lived) was swamped with bodies. There was blood on the street. To make matters worse, my brother-in-law, not American but Canadian, was searched and held for hours.
My wife will agree with me, however, that the hardest part of 9/11 was the sound of the chirping coming from the firefighters' vests. If a firefighter doesn't move after a certain amount of time, his or her vest will being chirping so the other firefighters can find him or her. As you watch the footage of that day, you hear that chirping almost everywhere. You realize how many men and women lost their lives.
I took a sick day on September 12th. Partially from the fact that I was really sick, but more to the idea that I just couldn't move. I had expended so much energy worrying over my family, that I was drained. I watched the Towers collapse again...and I kept thinking about that day with my father.
I did realize, however, that we were luckier than many people. Imagine being in Dresden during the fire-bombing. Imagine being a Jew during the Holocaust. True, so many people lost their lives on 9/11, but it is the proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to some other major tragedies.
I am in no way trying to take away from what happened, but I am trying to put it in perspective.
In December of 2001, my wife and I flew to St. Lucia on our honeymoon. Flying had become a major chore. My wife, who looks like a German, was pulled out of the line and searched. The checker turned bright red upon finding her contraceptives.
Finally, however, after being in seclusion on our honeymoon (we missed Richard Reid), we came back to America and went to New York to see my family. I walked down the street from my sister's apartment to see the flyers everywhere. People desperately searching for loved ones and clinging to hope. That, more than the images of Tower, was heartbreaking.
In the five years since the attacks, I have not been to the footprint of the WTC. I've had my opportunities, but there two issues I have:
1. When you saw something all the time...and then it's gone. Why torture yourself with how it looks outside your memory? If you loved that little church down the street...and it's become a shopping mall...why not just hold on to that memory?
2. The commercialization. People were buying tickets. People were selling goods near the area. It seemed so...wrong.
I have many issues with 9/11, however.
I don't like how it has been turned into a political tool.
I'm angry that few people know and care that the workers are now getting sick.
I'm frustrated that there are so many conspiracy theories.
I'm hopeful that this "Generation 9/11" will learn from all of our mistakes in the past.
I'm shocked that most of my current students don't fully know what happened on this date.
And then there is my son.
I worry, not unlike my father with me, about the world in which he is going to grow up.
There was not the public distrust of the government there is now when my father was growing up. The 1950's were the Golden Age of America.
Now we constantly worry. When will the next attack come? Where?
Am I at a point where I don't want to let my son out the door? No.
I just want to make sure he is informed. Not propagandized, but informed.
That's my hope.
Even when the new towers are built, I don't believe that I will ever go. It's not about accepting what's happened. I've done that. I just don't want to deal with the propaganda that surrounds it all.
Hell, a friend of mine said they were selling souvenir photos at Auschwitz now.
And then there are the soldiers.
When it comes to the soldiers, I have no idea what to think. Some come home and won't talk about what happened to them over in Iraq or Afghanistan. Others have loose tongues but fall on different sides.
The world is so different now. In some ways...in some ways the terrorists have won. I remember listening to people tell me that they would never return to New York. Why? They were afraid of another attack.
Our airports are insane. Sure, it's easy to get through security now, because no one can take anything on the plane.
Our country, which had a nice moment of unification after the attacks, is so sharply divided now, that you are more likely to see a Catholic and Protestant making out than see a Conservative and a Liberal (notice I did not say Republican and Democrat) holding hands on the street.
There's a great deal of fear. There's a great deal of anger. Unfortunately for us much of that anger has stopped radiating outward and has started being turned toward each other.
America is no longer that invincible teenager who thinks that driving is so easy. The country, much like that teenager after the first accident, realizes that it isn't untouchable.
Never forget the people who were there on that day. Their sickness could just as easily have been ours if the target was different.
Hug your loved ones and remember those who've been lost.