“Where were you when…”
Growing up, I always heard that same question (usually connected to recounted tales of JFK’s assassination) and never quite understood the heartache a simple line of inquiry could implant in a person.
On September 11, 2001 – at the tail end of my twenties – I suddenly learned with great gravity how hard a few words stitched together in just the right way could stagger a person. This was one of those days where I remember every minute in vibrant detail. I mean everything, every damned thing that I did that morning is tattooed to memory.
Where were you when that day’s beautiful dawn broke?
Where were you when you learned that the first plane hit?
Where were you when that second plane made its shocking entrance on the CNN live feed?
Where were you when the Towers fell?
Where were you when YOUR world changed… once again?
At 9:02 a.m. EST, as I was waltzing through our company’s Call Center (a little shortcut I had taken to my office on the way back from an early morning meeting with my boss’s boss), out of the corner of my eye I caught the 2nd plane hitting the tower and just stopped dead in my tracks. I had seen quick snippets of the morning’s earlier event replayed on the various televisions that dot the company floor plan. Each time I stopped for a spell to catch up on the event, my brain quickly comforted any rogue thoughts of anything untoward.
Before it was merely an ‘accident’. Now it was unquestionably an act of war.
I was in work a bit earlier that day (8:00 a.m.) to attend a meeting on behalf of my boss who was on the backend of her European vacation (an adventure which would extend by another week as she found herself a stranger in a strange land with no earthly means to just get home). I remember bemoaning the fact that I had to rise and shine a little too early that morning. And I remember chasing those bad thoughts away when I got to soak in a little of the September sunshine. Autumn has always been my favorite season – and though we were mere moments removed from August and the promise of Indian Summer always hangs high ‘til October – that morning’s bright rays cut through a swatch of September chill – sending me off to work with a little extra bounce in my step. Summer was fading. Fall was on fast approach. And I was two days shy of my one month anniversary at this new gig and still in the embrace of the new job honeymoon.
When that second plane hit – when those smothered fears finally broke their chains and pushed to the head of all conscious thought – when suddenly I was whisked into meeting after meeting (from conference room to converted ‘war room’) as my company struggled to etch a plan of response, I knew things had changed forever. My employer, a technology company in the financial services arena, suddenly had a whole world of chaos to contend with the unprecedented multi-day closing of the New York Stock Exchange.
Sprinting from meeting after meeting, I caught brief scraps of information and misinformation.
A plane had crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
The Pentagon had been attacked with rockets.
Another rocket attack had occurred near the White House.
The Sears Tower in Chicago was hit.
Wait!!! It wasn’t rockets. The Pentagon was hit by a plane. ANOTHER PLANE!!!
I didn’t know what to believe and what to discount. Regardless, what credible evidence did rise was enough to add up to one thing. My sense of security was shattered.
I recall a random thought popping in my head within mere moments of that second plane hitting the second tower. This is just like that Clancy book, Executive Orders. And I was not surprised when I glanced at yet another monitor and caught the subtitles on CNN reporting that Tom Clancy was now speaking to the host by phone from his home in Maryland. The graphic informed viewers that in Tom Clancy’s novel Executive Orders, terrorists seize a plane and plow it into the White House. It’s a good thing Executive Orders was never adapted into a movie. Someone would have had Hollywood’s head.
I also remember wanting to beat the living pulp out of this meathead who stood alongside me in a crowd of employees watching the towers burn on live TV. When the first tower began to collapse he turned and started laughing. That disconnect in him with what was transpiring a mere 200+ miles away and was irrevocably shattering lives across the globe – that fact that we were witnessing mass murder before our very eyes – made me, for the briefest of moments, want to disconnect every piece of that guy from the rest of him. Then, I realized, I’m better than that.
And thankfully, so are a lot of us. But not all.
But, I think what I remember most, was how beautiful that day began. I mean, it was a blinding blue September morn punctuated by that slight Autumn crisp. What started out as a storybook morning quickly morphed into a grim fairy tale with no apparent end in sight.
There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t wish September 11, 2001 had simply ended the way it began.
There isn’t a day that passes that I wish none of us had to remember anything beyond a non-descript September day.
“Where were you when you promised that you’d never forget?”