It’s difficult to believe it has been a decade-and-a-half since the terrorist attacks that rocked America that September 11th.
The first thing I remember about September 11, 2001 was actually the night before. That’s because I had come home from a characteristically-long day at work and managed to fall asleep on the sofa in front of the television. I have no idea what I was watching when I drifted off, but I remember waking up to a ringing telephone.
It was Mom. She asked if I had been watching television. As she told me a plane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York, I switched from whatever mindless program was on to the national news, remembering a documentary I had seen about the Empire State Building and a B-25 that had crashed into it on the morning of Saturday, July 28, 1945.
But that morning was different: there was a heavy fog, thick enough to cause the pilot of the B-25 to become disoriented and crash into the building.
When the television screen switched to shot of the World Trade Center tower with smoke billowing from a gaping hole, there was no fog: in fact, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
It was fashionable in the hours after the second tower was hit for people to claim they immediately knew it was terrorism.
I didn’t. It didn’t cross my mind. Perhaps that was the arrogance that comes from living in what we perceive as the most powerful nation in the world, an assumption that we are impervious to such a crazy thing (or at least, that we were then).
Or maybe it was an effort to block out the possibility of a scenario that perhaps should have been more apparent than it seemed to be at that moment.
But I was watching when the second plane crashed into the second tower and it was at that moment for me that it was clear there was no “accident,” no “malfunction,” and no “error” on the part of air traffic controllers. Both towers? That had to be intentional.
It was immediately clear that there would no local newscasts that day, though I seem to remember that we may have produced a single half-hour of news before throwing control back to the network for the rest of the day and night.
I spent the better part of a week going through clip after clip of footage from the attack and its aftermath, compiling clips of victims and heroes, loved ones hoping against hope and others learning their worst fears had been realized.
But I had a pause button in front of me.
When I needed a break from all of that emotionally-draining footage, I could press that button, walk down the hall and grab a cup of coffee or walk outside and get a breath of fresh air.
The people at the epicenter of that horrible day had no pause button.
They had to live it every moment. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.
And year after year. From people I’ve talked to who were there that day and those who saw things too horrific for even the evening news to report, those wounds are still fresh.
For those I’ve talked to who lost friends and loved ones in those attacks, the feelings are just as intense.
That kind of trauma — physical, emotional or psychological — doesn’t just fade over time. For some people, the pain only gets worse.
I had a pause button.
They still don’t.
I wish they could have had such an escape.
We use the slogan #NeverForget to remind ourselves to remember those who were lost on September 11th.
I imagine the survivors marvel that we’d even need such a reminder. It wouldn’t even surprise me to find out that some of them might even envy us that ability.
Who could blame them?