So many have written so much about what happened on September 11, 2001. Part of me wants to write a tribute too; and part of me knows better than to try.
There wasn't much hullabaloo about the first plane's impact on the radio station I was listening to when I heard about it. In fact, there was a brief note about a plane hitting the World Trade Center by the announcer between songs. For whatever reason, the image in my mind was a single-engine plane, like a private plane, that had clipped the building on it's way to Martha's Vineyard or something. I reached my place of work with no more information than the idea that someone had hit the WTC with their plane.
When I got to my desk, people were streaming by in a fairly steady queue, going toward the cafeteria. Working for Sony Electronics, there weren't many rooms in the building that didn't have at least one television. Someone came to me and said, "Did you hear about the plane that hit the Twin Towers?" I nodded. "Some idiot have a heart attack or something?" I asked; he shook his head. "No, they're not sure what's going on." I was piqued, and noticed more people rushing -- rushing? I thought, what's the rush about? -- to the television.
When I got there the room was crowded with employees, all watching with wide eyes and gaping jaws.
I turned my head, and what I saw sent my heart into my throat.
The pillar of smoke rising out of the gleaming Tower's top was drifting across lower Manhattan on the gentle breeze, billowing furiously out of the shattered windows, being driven by the madly licking tongues of fire leaping inside. The helicopter from which the view was provided gave us an eye-level view of the black serpent that stretched out over the crisp, crystalline autumn morning. I watched in wonder as the second plane came zooming into view, drifted behind the second building, and out of view. The cataclysmic explosion that followed an instant later made me physically jump in my seat, and drew an audible gasp from all of us in the room.
I remember staring numbly for a moment. I somehow was at my desk, calling my wife. I heard her groggy, hoarse voice, heavy with sleep, answer the phone.
"Turn on the TV," I told her, "and behold Biblical prophesy unfolding before our eyes."
All I could think of was Revelation 18:8-10:
8"For this reason (A)in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be (B)burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her (C)is strong. 9"And (D)the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and (E)lived sensuously with her, will (F)weep and lament over her when they (G)see the smoke of her burning, 10(H)standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, '(I)Woe, woe, (J)the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in (K)one hour your judgment has come.' (Rev. 18:8-10, NASB).
I couldn't say anything more. "What?" she said, still trying to focus on my words.
"Just turn on the TV," I repeated.
I heard her walk across our creaky hardwood floor and into the den, where she turned on the television. I heard the sound of the news coming through the handset. Then I heard her cry out "Oh my God ... Oh my God ... I -- I can't talk -- I have to go ... I have to go ..." She hung up on me then before I could say anything.
Our business never stopped functioning that day, but every smoke break reminded me that the world was never going to be the same again. Outside, just a few miles from O'Hare International Airport, the sound of the roaring jets going overhead, whisking people off to wherever they go, for whatever reasons, was a regular part of life. You actually get used to halting your conversations long enough for the screaming planes to pass over you until it was quiet enough to speak again.
I lit my cigarette that day, and I heard the sound of the flint wheel on the tiny stone. I heard the hiss of the gas stream escaping. I heard the birds in the trees around the facility. I heard the fountain in the tiny retention pond splashing away happily, and the quacking of the ducks in it. I heard the swans beating their wings. I heard things.
But I didn't hear any planes. The sky was silent.
After a time, a plane approached from the west. I watched it as it slowly roared and shrieked away over our building, bound for O'Hare, and I knew it was being carefully watched. When it passed over, the silence slid in around it again like water as it glides back from a boat wake. It washed over the whole world, and there was nothing but the thunderous quiet.
My son's life wasn't going to be like mine, I knew. And I knew that, from that day forward, nothing would ever be the same in my life again. I wondered that day if my wife and I had made a mistake in deciding to have a child. We both knew the world would never become a better place, but we thought ... I guess we thought the changes would be more subtle, more insidious, less noticeable, and more gradual. I don't think we ever expected the world's changes to seize us by the lapels and slap us across the mouth, then slam us to the ground and spit on us.
My wife wondered who hated us -- the United States, the land of freedom, the land of generosity, that had given so much to so many throughout her life; the country of heroism and decency; the nation that rescued nations in time of need -- who would hate us so much to perpetrate such a horrific, heinous, incomprehensibly evil act? She couldn't understand. She couldn't see how we could do so much for so many and be so reviled. Who?
It was rhetorical, of course; she's no fool. I think she knew the answer, she just couldn't wrap her mental arms around it.
I couldn't answer her specifically, but I did tell her that the world at large does not think well of our country. They hate us for any number of reasons, but the primary one is that they envy our wealth, our freedoms, our power and our position. I told her that, among the western nations, we are considered a "bully" that is too strong for its own good and one that needs to be stripped of some of its might. I told her that among the eastern nations, we are not well-thought of either; but the middle eastern nations are where the real hatred resides. The photos of the celebrations in those countries as our civilians died and our monuments collapsed into dust and rubble brought it home -- for both of us.
Naturally, I didn't tell her anything she didn't already know; my wife is much more aware of the world's goings-on than I am. But she, in her shock, just couldn't find the handle on those things.
For the next few days, our eyes were fixed on the television. We watched and we hoped; hoped for word of survivors, for word of the capture of the villains that perpetrated the horror, for an end to the fear and the anger. We hoped, of course, in vain.
Nothing will ever be the same again after September 11, 2001. If there is, however, any small grain of benefit from the monstrous deed, it is that we still remember.
I just wonder for how long. People were complaining about the increased security just DAYS after the event; they complained about not being able to fly immediately. Business whined that they needed the air travel to conduct their business. Passengers complained that their plans had been altered. The airlines complained that they'd lose billions -- yes, billions -- of dollars and have to file for government bankruptcy protection, oh, and by the way, we're going to need to be held in indemnity for all this, too; wouldn't want any angry family members suing us, would we now? All of this occurred on September 12, 2001. Yes, the very next day people were complaining. We, as a nation, still didn't even know what fate had befallen those that were trapped above the impact zones of the building, but it was not too soon to complain. They started, in short, to forget ... almost before it ever happened.
I know that many remember, but I think a lot of people have gotten distant from it, too. I think there's been enough time that people can cluck their tongues and shake their heads now, and say, "Wasn't that awful? That was just terrible. I remember how horrible it was that day."
But do they?
Lord, may I never forget. May I never forget the fear, never forget the pain, never forget the anguish ... and may I never forget the oppressive, blanketing, deafening silence.