9/11 is not a date we like talking about but we often do. 20 years ago the world changed. I was hoping for the better but as I write this in 2021 and thinking about the state of the world – I can’t but help but think we need to remember more than just what happened. More on that in a moment. Let us first review the story. You can see the timeline by visiting the 9/11 Memorial Timeline (911memorial.org)
Where I Was on 9-11
September 11th, 2001 was a day that few of us that were old enough to have memories will forget. For me, it was during the time of my awakening into full on adulthood. I was 25 years old and was just finding my footing in the world. My roommate Rick called me, knowing I was still asleep. “Turn on the news,” he said. “Something is happening in New York. I think a plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”
I was asleep because I had just come back from a trip to Washington, DC the night before. My hotel overlooked the Pentagon. I was there for this little company called Kinko’s deploying a new credit card system called “Express Pay.” We were creating a process to do it properly so the work took place very late at night (by the way, pretty scary for a 25 year old to be drilling holes in desks and nearly hitting homeless people sleeping under them in downtown DC!) My schedule was, therefore, pretty messed up for the week or so I had at home. But I had no idea what was to come.
The Second Plane on 9/11
Mere moments after I had turned on the news I saw the second plane hit the tower and knew that it could not be the accident that they were speculating. It felt like I was watching some sort of movie. I hadn’t yet been to New York, so aside from the intro to Friends, I hadn’t seen a lot of the Twin Towers. In fact, many people I have talked to over the years said that this was their first impression as well – that somehow a movie had been released as news in some kind of Orson Welles kind of stunt.
For me, what made it very real was the moment I saw footage of the Pentagon portion of the coordinated attack. The very place I had seen from my hotel room window less than 36 hours before now had fire coming from it.
My Moments of Terror
A few things in my life I would say give me a genuine sense of dread – a form of fear. One I can typically overcome but can be challenged with. One of those is of heights. I will tell you that seeing people jump to their deaths is something that haunts me even now 20 years later. I’m not going to dwell on that but certain things must be remembered so they are not repeated. Watching innocent people die this way was something none of us would have dreamed of seeing, much less in America. Not since the second World War had we truly seen anything even remotely like this.
It was about the time I heard news of the plane flying into the Pentagon that it became utterly clear to me that any plane in the air could be a potential target. It was at that moment that I also remembered that a friend of mine, Aaron, was flying that day to Portand, OR. I can’t recall how I verified it (email, I’m guessing), but I looked at his itinerary. Sure enough, he would be in the air – right now – very likely unaware of what was going on.
The thoughts that went from there I will not be sharing publicly. I don’t even think I’ve shared them with Aaron.
I can’t remember how I learned this specifically but at one point found out they were diverting flights to Denver. I lived 60 miles north of there and of course was familiar with the airport. So, I started preparing for a call I hoped would come. And it did. The next few hours were confusing for everyone, but I knew that there was an area at DIA that I could wait and see. As it turned out, that became the staging area to meet those from grounded flights. We were fortunate to have cell phones at that point. Aaron and I had been working together for sometime for his company, where I started my IT career traveling to ports all over America to visit their tanker ships.
The next day, the extent of the FAA lockdown became very clear and there was no way to know when things would resume. Gas prices went crazy. Rental cars sold out instantly. But my friend still needed to get to Portland. The thing is – these ships can only be at port for a limited time. The solution became clear very quickly. It was time for a road trip. But first – I had a schedule to keep in this confusing time.
On September 12, 2001 I sat and took my first IT Certification exam, the A+. The testing center was not sure if they should be doing it or not, but they went ahead. That was just the thing about the next day. Noone really knew what to do. I’m honestly still not sure how I passed that exam. Like all of us, my thoughts were all over the place. It was like our country was being tested. Would we pass?
The Road Trip
Fate just had it that I had just bought a brand new Saturn SC2. Black, leather, beautiful. Manual transmission. Sunroof. Two doors, two young dudes.
We set off – and I took the first stretch. Somewhere, later that night in what I think was somewhere in Wyoming, we stopped for gas and Aaron was going to take over. Newly refreshed, I took the passenger seat and he turned the key to the ignition. Nothing. Try again. Nothing. My brand new car was not starting. Being a troubleshooter by nature, I looked at the process. “Do you have the clutch all the way to the floor?”
It was that moment that I knew that I immediately realized that I would be driving the entire way. Oh, to be in my 20s again… We already had arranged that I’d be driving the whole way back and fortunately, I enjoy driving.
But once again our trip would prove to have surprises. Somewhere around Idaho we were passing under a bridge on the interstate when we saw them. People on the bridge, waving to traffic. Holding American flags.
It was like that more and more each passing day. We all felt it. The exact opposite effect of what those that deal in terror wanted.
We were united.
And the world with us. For at least some time, anyway.
Victim or Victor?
I was back on a plane as soon as it was possible. Why? I had a strong sense that I shouldn’t let fear win. That my being back on a plane would show those that were now terrified to fly that their fear was not appropriate.
Then some nutter tried to light a shoe on fire on a plane. Just as in the case of Flight 93 – my fellow flyers would have nothing of it. I was so proud.
Whenever there was any kind of disturbance on the plane, I found myself being ready to act.
I would simply not be a victim. That spirit carried in our nation for quite some time. I wish I could say it is still there today. I just wish that it didn’t take a tragedy to get back to that way of thinking.
Nor should it.I am calling everyone to simply stop being a victim. Not just of terrorism or government oversight. Not of a pandemic or economic status. Stop being a victim. Start being a victor. Click To Tweet
Stop being a victim. Start being a victor.
Unity is possible.
Prior to 9/11 there was a sense of two-sidedness in the US. Republicans and Democrats hated each other. Bush had a very low approval rating.
Then the months after 9/11 came and Bush suddenly had the highest approval rating of any President up to that point. The country forgot for a time being so two sided.
I miss that aspect of things. I miss feeling like it wasn’t us vs them. These days I feel it is so bad there is no us and there is no them. I have watched the land I love be torn apart by opinions. By a virus. By any excuse to exclude instead of include.
We say remember 9/11. But we’ve forgotten the most important thing. Whether you feel it was on purpose, something that was media-driven, or just an inevitable course we were on… this is all ridiculous and I really wish it would stop.
Disagree. Sure. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be united as one.
Our opinions shouldn’t divide us but make us stronger by the very thing this country was founded on: compromise.Our opinions shouldn't divide us but make us stronger by the very thing this country was founded on: compromise. Click To Tweet
Compromise doesn’t mean two sides lose. It means we all win – just differently than we wanted. We did it before, please let’s do it again… before we see another civil war. Yeah, heavy police – but come on. We are getting dangerously close.
Think of Others But Care For Yourself
In the car coming home later in September 2001, I remember pulling over on the freeway. My hands were shaking. My eyes welled up with tears so I couldn’t see the road. I was alone somewhere in Oregon and hadn’t taken the time to process.
As I write this, I am battling depression that I haven’t faced since around that time. As you can probably tell, this is not an easy thing to write. I’m not alone. Many of us have been struggling. But, as my friend Paula said when she was on the Better Than You Found It podcast – everyone has a level. Everyone’s scale of pain is different. What I’m going thru is painful for me. For others it may be far too much. Others may deal with it easily. My timing could be different as well– just as it was in 2001.
But the lesson is the same now as it was then.
It is not about me. But I must be healthy to help others. I must have compassion for those that have different opinions. I don’t know what they are going thru any more than they know what I am going thru.
I urge all of you reading this to remember that as well.
Remember the true lessons of 9/11.
Remember that what was torn down can be rebuilt.
Remember that we are in this together.