I'd save this for the day itself, but come Saturday, I'll be focused on other things. So, I do this now.
The title of Fareed Zakaria's piece in Newsweek is no doubt provocative. but it did get me to thinking about that day.
I left home to go to classes at Lakeland Community College, literally 3 minutes from home at, oh, 8:40 that morning. By the time my nurse and I arrived, the events of the day were well underway. Thing is, we didn't know about it.
I went up to the third floor, preparing for a 9:30 English course. Once you're on campus at a community college, you're fairly isolated from the rest of the world. Given the need to study, etc., this is normally a good thing. You can focus if you need to, or, better yet sometimes, just relax for a few minutes, not worried about anything else.
I'm not 100% sure how I spent those few moments before class was supposed to begin on that Tuesday, but I think it was a little bit of reading and talking with classmates. Given that it was still early on in the year, before the hopeless causes dropped the class, I liked to get in the classroom fairly early (9:20 or so) b/c I was limited in terms of seating due to my wheelchair*.
The next 10+ minutes were normal, though by the end, given that the prof. was usually early, I thought it seemed slightly off. When she entered the room, we all found out why.
"I assume you all heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center."
"Huh? No, what?"
We literally had no idea. Needless to say, she said, class was cancelled.
Upon leaving the room, two thoughts entered my head. One, a search for information. The place to go was the first-floor cafeteria, complete with a television set. Not surprisingly the area around the TV was packed, but folks were good enough to let me get close enough to see it. Seeing the replays of, I think, the first tower crumble were shocking, esp. since I didn't know it was a replay. Watching the same for the second tower was shocking and horrifying too.
From there, rumor took over. Had the White House been hit? No, but the Pentagon had been. But was a plane targeting it? Was it the plane that crashed in PA? Maybe, as it turned out, but we all had no factual idea. There were other planes out there too, right? It wasn't over yet, was it? As it turns out, there were no more planes and it was over, but at 10 am, the worst seemed possible, if not likely.
As I said, I'd had two thoughts upon leaving the classroom. The second thought was who was responsible? Bin Laden was becoming a big name in America, but, speciously, the first thought was Saddam Hussein, only because that was the highest-profile name out there. Given his actual secular leanings, this was a ridiculous thought. But it's what I thought at the time.
Why? Because, for a few hours, logic was almost put on the backburner. Fear and shock were the order of the day. Logic and reason would slowly come back, but not that day.
By 11:00, err, nature was calling. Lakeland had been good enough to set aside an old, but spacious storage area for me to use for such purpose (a padded table was also provided) on the second floor. While up there, next to the crosswalk bridge to, IIRC, the T Building, I tried calling loved ones, only to discover what others had or would: Sketchy, if any, cell phone service. That would, unnervingly, have to wait until later.
In truth, that wasn't going to be a problem, until rumors started spreading that, come 12-12:30, the campus was going to close. By 11:20, or so, this was confirmed. In hindsight, to close a local CC seems like an overreaction, but I don't think it was. Sure, the idea that Al Qaeda might attack community colleges on the same day they targeted NYC and DC was silly. But the larger point was that people needed to be together, with friends and family, not in a classroom. The national trauma was too great on that day for any other response.
Still, how was I getting home? Would our public transportation system (LAKETRAN) pick up those who used the service or had no other way home? How long would we actually be stuck there?
In the meantime, the quest for information went on. By now, a TV had been set up in a second floor conference room. I decided to go in there, while foolishly placing my lunch and other bags on my tray. As a result, my vision was obstructed, and I bumped my right in arm into a table, leaving a nice black-and-blue mark for days.
It's trivial, but I remember that so clearly and, in a way, likely always will. Nothing was mundane that day. Nothing.
About 15-20 of us kept watching CNN in that conference room. We watched Bush's initial statement from a Nebraska air base, to which an obviously committed liberal Democrat, though in my view, uninformed, spoke mockingly. I am, today, a proud liberal Democrat (though, I hope, informed), but I thought that mocking was inappropriate, a thought I kept to myself.
By 11:45, the national air space, it was confirmed, was shut down, a startling development. By 12:00, I'd made my way down to the Laketran pickup area. We waited outside for a few minutes (it was, ironically, a beautiful day outside) before Laketran did indeed pick us up.
Such as it was, the ride home was routine. Less routine was staying outside for a few minutes and hearing... very little. I live near a small, very local airport. So, hearing nothing in the skies was chilling and brought home what had transpired.
The rest was a fog, as everyone marvelled at the rescuers who risked (and many lost) their lives saving others and tried to figure it out what had happened. Like many, I felt almost compelled to watch television that week, even though no new info was discovered. It seemed like a solemn duty.
That Saturday, only one significant sporting event took place, the CART race at Lausitz, Germany. No one wanted to be there, but the flights to Europe had, mostly, occurred before the attacks, so they were stuck. The whole thing (untelevised) was a sober, almost surreal affair, culminating in awful fashion:
And so, the week ended in morbidly appropriate fashion (Alex survived, but lost his legs. He did not, thankfully, lose his spirit).
That Saturday had something of a "no-man's-land" feel to it. It was a Saturday in Fall, with no football to speak of. I knew there was a race in Europe (CART), but it also seemed like there couldn't be a race. ESPN had decided not to show it live, so it seemed totally distant. Then came the ESPNNEWS flash about the horrific Zanardi crash.
Was this real? Yes, it all was. Tuesday had been very real, and so was this day. And yet, in it's reality, it seemed a bit unreal. In a way, it still does.
*I note this just as a factual matter, NOT to indulge in self-pity. Making small adjustments like just seems smart to me and makes things easier for everyone, myself included.
This marks the first time I've ever written, in full, about how I, just an average American, experienced Sept. 11, 2001. For one thing, it all seemed so trivial to write about. I lost no one even remotely close to me that day, and my life went on as normal.
But, at another level, part of me just didn't want to write this because doing so means, in some way, living it all over again. Frankly, I have no desire to live it over and over again. This might sound like mental weakness, and maybe that is a small element, but it's not that I plan to forget about it. That likely won't happen for anyone.
But that's different, in my view, than when conservatives say "Never Forget!" Their tone and tenor has always suggested something darker to me: That we should relive that day (or, they might say, 9/12) anew everyday, at least in the political sense. In a sense, some would like us to feel as if those towers were coming down again everyday, thinking that if we don't, we'll no longer aggressively pursue Jihadists out of "complacency."
This is dangerous thinking to apply to an entire nation. For the victims' families, it is completely understandable. "Moving on" might be impossible for some.
But, for the nation as a whole, we must realize that, no matter how traumatic that day was, it was ONE attack nine years ago. To behave as if it were yesterday is asking for a nationwide mental breakdown.
Because, like it, or not, the world HAS changed. For most the issue of the day is economic insecurity, along with America's role in the world today. If we let one horrific day DEFINE our national character and policy, we are surely worse off for it.
Yes, let us remember the day, those who were killed by a few fanatics falsely claiming the mantle of Islam as justification. Let us learn a variety of lessons from that day as we continue to move forward.
But, and most importantly, let us never lose ourselves and what we stand for in the process. Partially out of deference to the "9/11 families," the Park51/Cordoba House project has been opposed by around 70% of Americans. Unfortunately, some of this opposition is also rooted in anti-Islamic bigotry. Protests against other mosques in TN, CA, and elsewhere verifies this.
Are we losing ourselves, our values? If so, I plead with everyone: 9/11 DID NOT happen yesterday. It was nine years ago. To scapegoat all Muslims is to break the civil contract that binds us together, that makes us American. It violates our reverence for Jefferson, Washington, Adams and all the Founders. In short, it would be to destroy ourselves.
I hope this is just an ugly moment, fueled mainly by economic anxiety. If it is not, then our future is dark indeed, precisely because we remain stuck on one tragic day.