Six Years Later…..

.

While supping with the Literatti this weekend, the subject of the sixth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks came up. It’s hard to broach such a subject without first wincing at it’s still lingering impact, then you tend to immediately reflect back on where you were, what you were doing–even what you were thinking, when the sad, tragic events of the day gave us a reason to remember it.

I woke up that morning just after 8am-Houston time—my friend Mark’s call served as my alarm. I turned on the TV as an automatic reflex and continued my brief conversation. When I hung up a few minutes later, I looked up and saw that the “Today” show had a camera trained on the North Tower. All you could see was a huge, gaping hole with fire and smoke billowing from it.

I remember thinking instantly that this was the handiwork of Osama bin Laden. No, this wasn’t an accident…no, this wasn’t the tragic result some sight impaired Mr. Magoo-like pilot in a Cessna who’d lost his way trying to follow the meandering shoreline of the Hudson.

This was intentional. This was bin Laden making good on his threat.

Then, things got stranger and stranger and the day got more surreal.

There were more reports that even more planes couldn’t be accounted for….more hijackings. The Pentagon was attacked….jumpers from the upper floors of a disabled high-rise with only minutes left to live, were captured by TV cameras as they fell to their deaths.

It was intensely painful.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. A second plane hit the South Tower. There is, I swear, an eternal imprint on the souls of every person who bore witness to that horrible, lamentable day.

Then came the collapse.

I watched The South Tower crumble first. Floor by floor. I watched walls and ceilings, and tons and tons of steel girders fall to the earth. What took nearly three and half years to build, came down in 12 seconds. And as I watched, I remember thinking that the objects that were falling were doing so with long and rather odd looking plumes of smoke trailing behind.

I don’t mean to be impertinent or disrespectful with what I’m about to convey, but I can remember feeling a bit disembodied emotionally. And when that happened, I remember thinking that the plumes of smoke, at different heights, widths and lengths reminded me of Sideshow Bob’s hair. From “The Simpsons”. I couldn’t shake that insane image.

Notice the photo on your left.

wtc.jpg

sideshow_bob.jpg

.

I distinctly remembering being struck by the comparison, then feeling absolutely awful that my mind “went there” while witnessing such a horrible event. Then, a few years ago, I realized that my mind was merely going into avoidance/denial mode BECAUSE what I was watching…what my mind was processing was so horrible.

The mind does what it must to make sense of something so utterly senseless.

Case in point: I interviewed a man once who lost his leg in a car accident. He told me that as he lied there in the crumpled heap that was once his truck, he heard members of the Fire and Rescue unit attempting to extract him. He was going in and out of consciousness, but distinctly remembers at one point, being overly concerned with whether or not he turned off his coffee maker before leaving the house that morning.

This, as most of his left leg was lying two feet away from him.

Shock is an awesome, protective phenomenon. The mind is amazing.

In those waning hours after the attack– as the nation emerged wounded and disoriented from the debris cloud of our own disbelief, we were glued to our TV sets. After a few hours, as reality continued to force feed us the acceptance of a most unpleasant situation, I realized I was witnessing (especially after so many interviews) a shape-shifting in the collective American consciousness. A rather laissez fare and cavalier attitude toward the government, foreign policy and national defense was rapidly changing in the course of one very event filled afternoon. I was starting to hear an almost primal melange of base emotions being discussed openly and honestly: despair, grief, anger, shock, dismay, rage, bitterness, disbelief, pain, revenge…

And fear.

We’d been attacked by the most dangerous nemesis known to man: hate fueled by a fundamentalist psychopath who believed he was divinely inspired and justified to do as he pleased. This was exacerbated by the fact that the vicious, murderous event happened our own soil. It cost us our sense of security. We immediately stopped feeling safe and started feeling vulnerable. We felt duped, as if we’d been had, because the method used—and it must be said—was brilliant in it’s simplicity. It was treacherous in its effectiveness.

Perhaps, that’s what made it even more frightening. That somewhere, somehow we…The United States of America, the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world with its extremely sophisticated method of intelligence gathering, had failed.

We’d been breached by our own planes, in our own airspace and by a failed system of airport security checks and balances put there to protect us.

We weren’t impervious.

That became more apparent as the day progressed–the afternoon offered no reprieve. Building 7 collapsed and the news was confirmed regarding the crash of the fourth hijacked plane, United 93 in that field in rural Pennsylvannia.

Still, I kept watching, hearing stories of those who managed to escape death’s clutches; I watched reports about people who saw evil “up close and personal” and lived to tell about it. I heard countless tales of bravery, heroism and altruism. After a while, I stopped listening to what they said and instead just looked at them for what they represented; what the day had forced them to become.

That’s when I saw something beginning to emerge…like the mighty Phoenix.

I started looking at the day’s events as the late Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning might have viewed it. He was able to see life’s beauty and promise while suffering through incredibly inhumane conditions as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. So, as the tragic events of September 11th continued to unfold before me, I began desperately looking for something/anything that could be construed as redeemable.

And then, I saw it. It hit me.

That morning, these people–these survivors, entered their respective offices at the World Trade Center representing a wide cross section of America. Men, women, execs, middle management…hourly wage earners. They went about their daily routines…getting coffee, making copies, rushing to meetings, finishing reports, they made calls and checked foreign markets for overnight activity. And they did these things as vastly different people—physically, ethnically, socially.

Yet after the fall; after the towers collapsed, those who survived emerged from the dust and debris, covered in the same whitish colored ash that just hours before had been two-110-story American icons— architectural wonders brought down by physics, gravity and hate. The ash represented so much: pulverized remnants of offices, insurance, money, solvency, debt, flooring, tiles, invoices, hopes, dreams, goals….so many different human lives.

These people, who woke up that morning for the sole purpose of being inexorably and permanently changed, were covered in humanity, really.

Lump sum humanity.

And it covered them from head to toe.

At first glance, it prevented me from discerning who and what they were. Were they high powered Wall Street executives or members of the secretarial pool? A high powered attorney or a window washer? I couldn’t tell whether they were rich or poor; a Wharton grad or a high school drop out. What were they ethnically?

On September 11, 2001 they were merely survivors. Tragedy and devastation removed all other labels.

ashcovered1.jpg

You see, on this one day; this one extraordinarily tragic day in our history, these very different people, really weren’t very different at all. For a few hours anyway, they ceased being black, white, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Gentiles, bosses or subordinates–they weren’t rich or poor. These were just men and women who miraculously survived it all and in the hellish aftermath of one of the worst terror attacks in history, found themselves covered in this thick, white, ashen “sameness”.

How ironic, too…..

White represents the total absence of color.

I can only speak for myself, but on the dark day that was September 11, 2001, this realization was a tiny bright spot. It gave me hope.

It isn’t much, but it’s something I still cling to….six years later.

.

16 comments

  1. I really dig your opening up in this post because I wondered how other people made sense of this…made sense of something so illogical.

    I found an old editorial from college that sparked me to share about my day on 9/11. I think there will be even more posts tomorrow as we remember again. The observation of absence of labels from the ash was some powerful stuff there Laurie. Great post. Would be nice to see THIS post in the Top Post spot over all the celebrity BS that has no purpose.

  2. I rememeber so clearly where I was and what I was doing. I had just dropped the kids off at school and sat down to eat a breakfast taco. As I watched what I thought was a midair collision due to poor navigational techniques, I immediately worried about our flight to the Bahamas that was coming up in October. Then the second tower was hit and then it hit me that our nation was under attack. Throughout that day and the days after that, I was in front of our television, mourning their deaths as if I was personally involved. What a devastating week that was in our country’s history. Wonder if this will be written in our schools’ history books.

  3. Lovely tribute.

    I didn’t realize it was anything more than an accident until the second plane hit. I was sitting at my desk and a student came into my office just sort of looking lost and misplaced somehow. She asked me if I’d heard about the plane hitting the building. I told her that I had seen it that morning on the Today show, and she interrupted me, “no, the second plane.” My heart plummeted. She came around and sat next to me while we waited forever, it seems, for CNN to load. It was the most devastating thing and I wanted to so much to do something but I couldn’t think of anything to do. You can give money, time, blood even-but you can’t give back what they most wanted and needed.

  4. Laurie,

    Thank you for your gentle and captivating post on this day.

    I, too, knew it was an act of terrorism and that Osama was behind it. I am not sure how but it seemed to almost jump forth from me like a breath.

    I was in a suburb of Boston, shaving and listening to the radio as I prepared to head into the city.

    Probably one of the most deafening sounds was the silence that hung in the air as people now had returned from work, sat in the homes with their families, and grieved. There were no sounds from planes overhead nor cars busy on the streets. There was silence.

    I wanted more than anything to be with my family and to hold my two young children. It was there and then that I resolved to make a difference in whichever way I could not just for them but also for our Nation.

    I love this country and I have said so every day since then.

  5. I remember where I was and what I was thinking the moment I realized that the towers were on fire. I will not share those thoughts because they are way too inflammatory. Suffice it to say, it was a shame. A true shame.

    And don’t be too hard on yourself about the Side Show Bob thing. It is remarkably similar in shape, and he is a sinister character…

  6. America will never be the same at least in this generation.

    Yours Miss Kendrick is the single most impressive piece I have seen in years. I am honored to have read your work.

    Here what I remember: On Sept 11, I was unemployed and asleep when the first Jet hit and my wife turned on the TV and we saw the second Jet hit within a few minutes of deciphering what was going on.

    The reports of a tragic accident I looked a saw a clear day and said NO.. that was no accident and boom the second hit.

    I went and woke my mother up and had a terrible time telling her what happed because I was crying so hard.
    It hit me all at once. My mother said well son it has started. She had been saying that a war was coming.

    We went shopping a quickly as we could because we knew people would panic. Sure enough people were walking around in a daze repeatedly asking what happened.

    The day time sound was so peaceful there was no air traffic. That night we went to get gas and there were lines. Gas price had gone from $1.00 something to $6.00 just like that. We had a field day reporting price gouging to a special number in Texas. The only ones price gouging were foreigners and this is a fair statement we went shopping for gas that night taking notes and reporting what we saw. They were all prepay and people were very angry.

    We live in the Greatest Country in the world.

  7. Laurie,

    That was a very powerful posting.

    I struggled writing mine this morning because of how raw it still feels despite the passage of time. I am glad you pulled a morsel of hope out of such a miserable notch in our world’s history.

    I am deighted that I stumbled across your site. powerful indeed.

    Mike

  8. Really enjoyed your post. I think it says some fundamental things about us. Good and bad. Making us unified would be a great thing, but I fear it will only be a blip on the RADAR in the grand scheme of things.

    Thanks Darlin’. What I saw that day, I knew only existed in that time and place. It was temporary, but it was what I needed. On a day that made no sense, on a day that was so illogical because true evil had prevailed–repeatedly–I had to glean soemthing good from it. And I did. Like Viktor Frankl, anytime we can see good in the midst of evil, that puts us ahead of the game.

    There are none so fortunate as those who believe.

  9. Powerful, powerful posting.

    It is also a statement of our incredible spirit in most difficult times, your humanism and solid writing. Thanks. God Bless Our Great Country.

  10. I’m glad you were able to find “emotional salve for your emotional wounds” all those years ago..

    Your blog post gave me pause to reflect. I was ever so young and naive on that fateful day in Dallas. But I will forever remember 9/11.

    A friend is writing a book of healing that escaped from the towers. You can find out more here: http://www.intodestiny.com/

    Thank you again for sharing. It’s funny how our minds wrap around inane things in times like these.

    Sincere hope for healing,
    Ginger

  11. What a beautiful and well-spoken post, Laurie. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I was asleep when it happened, because I worked nights at the time. I got the news when my roomate at the time- sean ellis- came home for lunch and rousted me out of bed. He seemed out-of breath, and his hair was practically standing on end when he told me that terrorists had flown hi-jacked planes into both buildings of the world trade center and sucessfully dropped both buildings. My first reaction was disbelief. When I saw he wasnt kidding, my second reaction was to do a quick mental calculation. I knew approximately how many people worked inside those behemoth buildings every day, and I figured we had just lost about 50,000 Americans.

    My second thought was that this means WAR, and not just air-strikes-sanctions-and-united-nations-resolutions type war, but old-school-pissed-off-american-can-of-whoopass type war. These islamic assholes had been pushing us, and pushing us, and pushing us for years, and now- I figured- they are going to get more than they bargained for.

    As time passes, and lives go on, a lot of people HAVE become less cognizant of the significance of the events of that tragic day, but I am not among them. I am ashamed and disappointed at the paltry nature of our response to this kick in the balls by radical Islam. Our Grandparents knew how to kick some ass back in the day after THEY got attacked, and THIS generation’s ambivalence and cowardice in response to this heinous act, does NOT do justice to the 3,000 ghosts calling out for vengance from the ashes of Ground Zero in my opinion. I’ll never forget ,and I’ll never forgive the people who did this, the hateful, evil religion they represent, and ESPECIALLY all the people in the world who cheered and celebrated when it happened. September 11th was the day we learned once and for all who our friends were, and who our enemies were.

    Everybody else in this country seems ready to furl the colors , sound the retreat, and go back to life as normal but I’m ready to strap-on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Al Queda, Hamas, or any OTHER collection of Islamic whack-jobs that want a piece of this country- all at once if that’s how they want it. If any of you haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” yet, I seriously think that today would be a great day to rent it. The imagery, the story it tells, and the memories it brings back, brought tears to my eyes when I rented it last week. I hope I never forget.

    I don’t WANT to ever forget.The victims deserve better than that.

  12. I think when one is watching Tv one can disembodied emotionally quite easily. People watch violent movies and it seems that modern day movies are full of at least one epioside of horror and/or violence. We are somewhat sensatised to it. I myself am surprised that I wasnt living so far away. I remember sitting there and just crying crying crying.

    I also remember thinking it was a like a war zone (I suppose in ways it was – it was the start of our war on terrorism) or like you these people were people living in a Nazi concentration camp but these people were actually in a city. I compared Auckland city where I was living at the time (or at least one of the suburbs of Auckland) and trying to imagine what it would be like – thats what I found hard. This was real this was unimaginable but it was actually happening and the horror hit me hard.

    God sees us as all the same your words made me really see that – thank you.

    My thoughts are with you and all Americans today. I will be back to visit your blog again. You are an excellent writer keep it up my new friend.

  13. Thank you, Laurie, for your great, incredibly and moving story! I remember, visiting those Towers back in 1975 and I was so amazed at what man was able to construct. Incredible!

    Six years ago, I was at work, when the planes did their damage. I remember feeling such pain for our country. I felt so many thing–anger and of course, I was scared. No one knew what would happen next! I was wishing our forefathers could reach through the years and the from the grave to give us the courage and the ability to flatten those crazy madmen and send them out of this world!

    Thanks for this story. You’re right. Hope is out there.

And now, you may opine your ass off...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s