What do you most remember about September 11th? For me, it was a telephone call from my mother.
On the morning of September 11th — that September 11th — I woke up to the sound of my ringing phone. I remember falling asleep on the couch in front of the television the night before.
In 2001, I worked as a promotion manager at a television station in Columbia, South Carolina. The promotion manager title sounded impressive. But it meant, in this case, that I was also the only producer. I managed myself.
That, in turn, meant working long hours, sometimes into the night.
So by the time I got home, probably after midnight, I crashed on the sofa.
The phone woke me up. Mom asked if I was watching television. I had been, but it was on some cable channel. But I switched over to the morning news at her behest. I immediately saw a shot of the World Trade Center and a hole towards the top of one of the towers. A plume of smoke rose from the building.
It didn’t immediately occur to me that I watched the beginning of a terrorist attack.
The first thing that came to mind that morning was an old newsreel.
I don’t remember where I first saw it. But I recalled that toward the end of World War II, a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building.
This may or may not have been the newsreel I had seen. I don’t remember it being quite so melodramatic, but it tells the story:
But the key issue with that 1945 crash had been a thick fog over New York City. The B-25 pilot had taken a wrong course and couldn’t see the building he rapidly approached.
As I watched the image of the World Trade Center, however, you couldn’t escape one obvious fact: there was no fog.
You couldn’t see a cloud in the sky.
It didn’t take long for the second plane to strike the second tower. At that point came the terrible realization: you couldn’t pretend any longer that it could be an accident.
Only a handful of people died in that 1945 crash. The death toll from 9/11 would quickly reach nearly 3,000. It inspired something called The 2,996 Project, an effort by bloggers to remember the victims. Each victim would be chosen by a blogger who would then write about the person’s life.
I wrote about a 24-year-old victim named Joshua Birnbaum. He worked in the World Trade Center. At the time of the attack, he realized he was not likely to get out of the burning building. So he called his parents.
“I need to tell you that I love you,” he told his mother. “I’m going to die.”
I can’t imagine hearing that from a loved one over the phone. Nor can I imagine having to make that kind of call.
You’d think, after 19 years, we would have reached some sort of wisdom to explain it all.
If you have, you’re doing better than I am.
The best we can do is to make sure those lives aren’t forgotten. Not because we want to maintain hatred, but because we want to remember their lives. The nation came together in a way that seems virtually impossible today.
If we’re smart at all, we must hope it won’t take another tragedy of that magnitude to help us come together again one day.