Friday, September 9, 2011

Tim's Story: Where were you on 9/11?

Everyone has their own story of 9/11 - where they were, what they were doing, and how it affected them. My story, when taken in view of the whole of things, is really pretty ordinary and unremarkable. I was one of the “lucky” ones, if the word “luck” can be applied to anything that happened that day - I didn’t have any family or loved ones in New York City or at the Pentagon. I didn’t even know anyone who was flying anywhere. I was, like on any other morning, in my office. Someone, and I forget now who it even was, came in to the room and said something about an airplane and the World Trade Center in New York. Then they ran off down the hall to the next room. Everyones heads started popping up above the cubicle walls, and we all just sort of looked at each other with shrugs and expressions of confusion on our faces.

Then someone else came in to the room and said that we should all come out in to the hallway and look at what was on TV. One by one, we got up and filed out of the room, and down to the TV that was mounted high up in the corner at the end of the floor. We all know what we saw, and it was horrible. Everyone had that look of silent disbelief as we sat there watching the smoke pour from a giant gaping hole in the North Tower. Words like “accident,” got thrown around, but I am pretty sure someone said “terrorist” at one point. Then a few minutes later it happened again, and after that “terrorist” got said a lot more. Then the rumors started flying around, and everyone had heard something from someone else who knew a guy who saw something, and it was hard to know truth from fiction. Half an hour later, when someone heard that “something happened at the Pentagon,” and then CNN showed the burning hole in that building, “terrorist attack” became the words of the day.

It may be hindsight, or memories clouded by 10 years of time passed, but I distinctly remember standing there in that hallway, mouth agape, and suddenly having the thought that there was no way that those two buildings could stay standing after having something like that happen. I think it was about five minutes or so before the South Tower collapsed. The images of the falling buildings, the clouds of dust sweeping down the streets of Manhattan like some sort of Biblical storm, and the people.... the people, first running in terror and then wandering aimlessly through the ashes and rubble with vacant, shocked faces will stay with me forever. I will also never forget the image of a thousand thousand pieces of paper being wafted through the streets on the wind. Pieces of paper that had, just a few hours before, been the focus of someone’s day, someone’s job, someone’s life. Now they were just more detritus, being blown about by the winds of destruction, and drifting slowly to rest on the streets of New York like some kind of horrible grisly confetti.

Those memories, and a hundred more, will be with me until I die, and each of us has our own set of images and experiences that we will carry with us, always. I remember sitting down for a meal with a few friends a day or two later, after the initial panic had faded, after the phone calls to family to make sure everyone was ok, when it was finally starting to feel all right to stop and take a breath. The conversation around the table was about the obvious subject, and I remember saying to someone that the morning of the 11th of September, 2001 was going to be our generation’s November 22nd, 1963. Everyone in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation remembers where they were and what they were doing the morning that they heard that Kennedy had been shot, and all of them have their stories of that time. Likewise, I said, all of us are going to look back on this in 10 years, or 20 years, or 30, and say “I remember where I was when...” Like the November day in Dealey Plaza, the September morning in New York would change the world for a generation.

Now, after 10 years, I think I was at least partially wrong about that. Oh, we all remember where we were and what we were doing that Tuesday morning, and we always will, (and for many, the world did change forever in all too concrete a way that day) but I was a little off about being able to “look back” on it in quite the same way that people look back on Kennedy’s death. None of us around the dinner table that day knew that President Bush would shortly be announcing the start of a war. Even if we had known, my generation certainly couldn’t have imagined that 10 years later, we would still be fighting that war. Wars, to us, were quick things - the invasion of Panama, or the first Gulf War - you went in, you showed everyone who was boss, and then it was over. Yet here we are, after a decade, still embroiled in the same conflict.

The very fact that a whole generation is now fighting a war that began when they were 8, or 10, or 12 years old will change our country forever, and in a much more wide reaching way than just the events of that morning in isolation did. One day the fighting will be done, the rifles laid down, and the men and women will come home to their parents, spouses, and children. They will take off the uniforms and take up the lives that they laid aside when duty called, and I think that it is what we do now, and what we will do then, that will define what the events of September 11th will mean to history. The echoes of that morning will ring down through history long after the buildings are rebuilt and countless anniversaries have passed. We as a country have faced a myriad of choices and branching paths in the 10 years since that day. Some of them I think we’ve negotiated pretty well, and others perhaps we could have done better with. I hope and pray that we can all keep our eyes fixed on what is important so that in another 10 years, or another 10 after that, our children don’t have to have their own day to remember.

In addition to being Alissa's husband and Liam's dad, Tim is an IT engineer and an automotive journalist who writes for websites such as Kilometer Magazine and VW Vortex. He loves European cars and motorcycles, but not nearly as much as he loves his family.

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