Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2001

It was only 8 short years ago today. Everyone has their story of 9/11. Here's mine.

For a lot of years, Tuesdays were my scheduled day off. I'd get off work early on Monday and didn't have to be back until noon on Wednesday. It was almost like a "weekend" close as you ever got in the car business. This Tuesday started like any other. I got up and walked, made some coffee, then dropped off clothes at the dry cleaners and the laundry. I was looking forward to a day of relaxing. Maybe go hit a few golf balls or do a little shopping. Things were very good for me, for a lot of us, in 2001.

I was a creature of habit. I had the radio on The Ticket, listening to the Dunham and Miller show and had the TV on with the sound turned down. They came back from a break and announced that they were watching what appeared to be a plane crash at the World Trade Center. I tuned the TV to CNN or whatever channel was already covering it live. The rumors were already rampant. It was a small plane, possibly a Cessna. It was a police helicopter. But as the pictures started coming in, the size of the hole and the fire told me it was something much bigger. A few minutes passed and then the unthinkable happened. We all watched in horror as the second massive plane flew into the other building. I felt weak and sick at my stomach, sat down on the edge of the bed and realized my country was under attack. Time slowed down. I walked outside and looked around. Neighbors that were home that day had done the same thing. There was small-talk and speculation. I don't remember when I realized the Pentagon had been hit but I recall hearing there was still a plane in the air, possibly headed towards D.C.

It was then that I realized that no one knew the scope of this. Was every major city going to be under attack? Where were we safe? I tried to make a few calls. I called mom on my landline, then tried to call the store. No answer. I was worried about the people at work. I was single but most of them were married with young families. This was 6 months before I'd move to the country and the store was only a mile from my condo. I jumped in my Yukon and raced up there. My department was huddled around a little black and white 12" TV that we'd pitched in and bought to pass the time late at night or on Saturdays to watch college football. I just remember a lot of hugs and a swirl of emotions...People went from being shook up, to angry, to worried. The feeling of uncertainty was pretty thick.

At some point Buz got there and his managers gathered in his office where we could watch the news on a bigger, color TV. A few of us wandered out to the I-20 access road, smoking and talking. It was eerie. It wasn't noon yet but the traffic on the interstate was just a few random cars in each direction. We were paged. A decision had been made. We were told to start sending people home to be with their families. At 1pm or so, we locked up the back door of the main building. There were a handful of us still mingling around, not really sure what to do next. Any time the conversation trailed off, the silence was deafening. No planes overhead. No traffic. No pages over the loudspeaker system. Just silence. I had plenty of offers to spend the day with friends. They knew I'd be alone if we all drove off in different directions, but I declined. I needed to be alone, at least for a while.

The rest of 9/11/01 is a blur. I remember driving around for a while, then going home and watching the TV for hours. Ronda came by late in the afternoon and we had dinner together. I don't really remember sleeping. Our lives had changed forever. In the following days as people arrived back to work, the girls made ribbons for everyone to wear. Here's mine:

9/11 Ribbon

The next few days were spent in mourning. For all those that lost their lives and their families, but also for ourselves and our lost sense of innocence. For days we prayed that there might be survivors, but none were found. President Bush rallied the Nation in addressing a joint session of Congress and the world on live TV. "Freedom itself is under attack". "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". It was his shining moment and it helped us all feel a little safer. Days later, "America: A Tribute To Heroes" was broadcast on all networks. Springsteen opened the show with no fanfare to a haunting, gospel version of "My City of Ruins". The next few days and weeks were a confusing time. We wept for our fallen brothers and sisters but we also wanted to carry on, stronger and more unified than before. We returned to work, to school, all while Ground Zero was still a smouldering heap of twisted steel and concrete and humanity.

I remember the first time I really let myself feel good after that Tuesday. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon on September 23rd we went to Texas Stadium. It was our first Cowboys game since 9/9. Security was unbelievable. My vehicle was searched because we had VIP parking. As we approached our gate I noticed the Irving PD tactical officers, strategically placed, and every one was armed with a rifle. We were wanded and frisked upon entering the stadium area. We got to our seats early, and the casual greetings usually exchanged with the people in our section, the handshakes or nods, were replaced with big hugs. It felt good for us all to be doing something normal. I don't remember the invocation, only that it started, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow." The field was completely covered with an American Flag, held up by dozens of volunteers. During the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" I looked around at one point toward the end and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.


In the weeks to come, there were many small moments of healing. The U2 show in October, when Bono wept onstage while wrapped in an American flag, and then in the encore during "Walk On" they scrolled the names of the 9/11 dead on a huge screen behind the stage. Eventually, the feeling of solidarity returned to partisan politics. A lot of those that said "We Will Never Forget" have forgotten. I never will. Take a moment today and remember those that lost their lives that day and their loved ones. Remember the men and women of the United States Armed Forces that have given their lives to protect our freedoms. And remember the way you felt on 9/11/01 and in the days to follow. This country came together to fight a common enemy, if only for a moment. It would be a better place if we put ourselves back in that frame of mind occasionally. Have a safe weekend. More soon. tb

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