The phone call came from a relative: “Turn on the TV.” On the television, I saw the images of the Twin Towers burning. The planes had already flown into the buildings. Less than an hour after I saw those images, the Towers collapsed upon themselves.
When the call came, I was on my way out the door of the apartment. I watched the coverage for a few minutes, unable to adequately grasp the magnitude of it. Then I headed out the door. The weather where I was held bright and sunny all day. The morning air was cool. As I drove the car, I turned on the radio to the NPR station. The announcers seemed to be absolutely struggling to describe and contextualize what was going on. It seemed too unimaginable for it to have been a terrorist attack, and theories abounded about pilot error, technical malfunctions or anything else but a cold, hard suicidal terrorist attack.
By the time I arrived at my destination, the Towers had come down. At first, the casualty figures were mind-blowing: 20,000 people in both Towers. I almost burst into sobs. I said out loud, “That’s almost three times the size of my hometown!” I couldn’t get my mind around it. Even once the counts achieved the level of fact, it was unimaginable: 2606 in the Towers or on the ground; 125 at the Pentagon (including 55 military personnel); and 246 on the four planes. Four hundred eleven emergency workers died, including 341 firefighters and 2 paramedics, 23 police officers, 8 EMTs/paramedics from private companies, and 37 Port Authority police officers. There were also the 19 Islamist hijackers who killed themselves in those evil attacks.
Of course it was soon confirmed that al-Qaeda Islamists, with the help and patronage of Osama bin Laden, planned and executed the murderous attacks. For what seems now like such a brief and fleeting moment, the country was united in the pain, the help and support, and the resolve to see justice done. It will be hard to forget the visual of the nation’s political leaders singing “God Bless America” together on the Capitol steps. It all fell apart so quickly as various partisan interests began to use and manipulate a nation’s grief and gritty resolve for cynical power grabs. It felt like we had so little time to enjoy the sort of national community that is so lacking in our country, the sort of national pride that is so cynically deconstructed everywhere in the media.
I have no relations to anyone who died or was injured in the destruction of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, or United Flight 93. I have never lived in those locales and thus have not gained the sort of pride of place that comes from living and breathing in a geographic location. I am invested in no political activist cause associated with 9/11. I have no memoir to tour. I’ve not created any Youtube videos to which to drive any internet traffic.
I am a simple citizen who still finds it difficult to come to grips with the horrifying tragedy unleashed on our country by the attacks. I alternately gripe about the security measures I have to adhere to while traveling, and am thankful that through diligence and God’s mercy our nation has not suffered another 9/11. I am as disgusted by the cynical use of 9/11 for partisan ends as I am by the seemingly willful neglect to remember the military personnel who have lost their lives so that we Americans here at home can keep ours.
I am a simple citizen who wishes simply that the national unity and resolve we all saw and experienced in those days immediately following the September attacks were not such a distant memory, nor something only called out by horrific evil and unspeakable tragedy. But I am also grateful that in those moments of death and murder and evil our nation could find within itself a basis for that unity and that resolve. Pray God we never lose it.