9 1 1
They are numbers I say every day. Followed by “Where is your emergency?”
But if you change Nine-One-One to Nine-Eleven – the meaning switches immediately and the emergency is instantly remembered. Nine Eleven is a day that Americans thought was impossible in the 21st century – a terrorist attack on US soil. Not just US soil – but downtown Manhattan New York City. And then Washington DC. As the events unfolded that morning ten years ago a new reality of the world we live in came to life in real-time as millions of American’s watched the tragedy unfold on television. That was the difference from this “day of infamy” and the one that occurred December 7th, 1941. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor – American’s learned about the attack hours after it happened via radio. They didn’t see pictures until the next day in the morning newspapers.
Our generation watched the attacks happen – we didn’t see American Airlines Flight 11 fly into the north tower but we all watched live as United Airlines Flight 175 tipped it’s wings to inflict more damage just before it burst into the south tower. And the fireball that shot out of the building is etched in our memories and it can’t be erased by time.
The often asked question is “Where were you?” I was laying in bed. Trying to ignore the bright sunlight coming in the window and the Today show on the TV. I could hear “Blues Clues” playing in the living room and knew that my three-year old was awake and playing with his firetrucks left out from last night. Then I heard Matt Lauer’s voice announce that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. And I sat upright in bed. Unlike some of the reporters I didn’t think it was an accident. Then 15 min later my suspicions came true. As my husband and I watched horrifying images in our room we kept hearing the silly music and cartoon voices from Nickelodeon in the living room. My friend Patty called crying. My sister Jacque called from her office 38 floors up in the tallest building in Indianapolis. I told her to leave work. When the south tower collapsed my friend Patty called back crying because she was afraid there were firemen still in the building. I told her I was sure they had issued an evacuation order and the firefighters were out of the building. But in all honesty I wasn’t sure. In fact several firefighters had made it to the 78th floor – the lowest floor of impact in the south tower. And they radioed in just before the collapse.
Then I went to work. The phones were quiet – which I thought was odd. Cathy and I sat in a conference room which had been modified into a temporary dispatch center because ours was under construction. The big screen TV which was in the conference room and we had all been so excited about was now just a giant constant replay of the mornings tragedy. The only call I remember getting that day was from a gas station attendant wanting me to send officers to direct traffic because there was a huge traffic jam of cars trying to get gas. That is my 9/11 story. It is largely insignificant compared to the stories told by people who were there.
Ten years later…. It still doesn’t seem real. It is still deplorable. Even though we killed the man ultimately responsible for the attack it offers little consolation. Most of us not directly affected by the tragedy have gone on about our daily lives and only pause once a year for remembrance.
The last thought I have for this day is another number. 343. There were many hero’s that day including thousands of coworkers helping each other to get out of the burning buildings — but there was only one group of people who were going into the buildings and up the stairs as everyone else was going down the stairs and leaving.
May you all rest in peace and know you will never be forgotten.