Elements of this remembrance were initially written last year for the eighth anniversary of 9/11.
Nine years have now passed since that fateful day, when the world felt like it lay still in stunned silence. So many lives lost, and for reasons so filled with hate and fanaticism. It was a day that people of my generation consider to be their “Pearl Harbor” or “Kennedy Assassination.” Remember where you were when it happened? My wife and I do, vividly.
We were on our last day of a trip to Long Beach WA for the “Rod Run to The End Of The World.” Lying in bed that morning we saw the news reports about an airplane hitting the twin towers in New York. At the time it was considered an accident…just as the second plane hit. Sherry and I looked at each other and asked “What is really going on?” There was very little information, but then reports of other plane hijacks started coming in. That’s when the fright set in. We didn’t know if this was the precursor to a larger attack, but as the morning went on things started getting out of hand. Breakfast talk at the local cafe spun around the thought of war. Gas stations around Washington started kicking their prices up to over $5.00 a gallon for some reason. All flights were grounded. Our drive home from Long Beach would have gone past Fort Lewis – now home to Stryker brigades – so we had to reroute due to concerns over security. It took far longer than normal for us to get to our house. Once home, we just wanted to sit. The thing that sticks in my mind the heaviest are the quiet skies the night of 9/11.
When you grow up listening to airplanes overhead at all times, absolute silence is unnerving.
I sat in the back yard and took in the dead air, smoking a dark cigar and thinking about what this all meant. I couldn’t put the pieces together in my mind; the mixture of confusion and fear just sank me deeper into uncertainty. The next few days were filled activities conducted in a daze. The things of life that mattered most were taken on with little or no emotion. That bucket was already full. During World War II it was called “The Thousand Mile Stare.” We had five minutes of silence at work two days later; I sat and cried at my desk. Most everyone stopped what they were doing, while one person decided to think of the remembrance as a five-minute break to get coffee and go have half a smoke. His actions were considered rude and thoughtless. The corniest patriotic notions started to pull at my soul.
Our sons won’t understand 9/11 in the way their parents do. Neither one was born yet. They will never know the creepy silence in the skies that night as all air traffic was grounded. They will never see – I hope – a nation so stunned by tragedy that many Americans couldn’t function for days (me included). And sadly they will never see the innocence of our world Pre-9/11, when an airport trip was a drag but not a life-changing inconvenience. In my opinion, it’s better that I can tell them about it rather than having them live through what we and other Americans did on September 11th.
We’ve had many highs and lows in the time since. We seem to now be emerging from one of those lows, each with a new found view of how to spend our money, our time, and our future. There’s a renewed focus on family, and less focus on the pocketbook. In a way, the first decade of the 21st Century started in disaster and will end in disaster. War and Economy. We’ve gotten the double-whammy. But we’ve survived. Some of us have thrived, and even found purpose.
I started a program in the wake of 9/11, building bicycles for kids who didn’t have them, as a way to give back in the world that needed so much. Sure, the idea to rebuild bikes for needy kids had been in my heart for about six years at that point, but 9/11 was a major catalyst in making the program happen. I also gave blood for the first time in my life, on the first anniversary of the attacks. Many people have stories like mine, where the incident put something in their heart. It was a phenomenon to be sure.
I read an obituary recently for a retired US Naval officer who died in his 70s on September 10, 2001. It struck me how much the world has changed since that day, and how he would never see differences. Even the “World’s Longest Undefended Border” between the U.S. and Canada is now overwhelmed with cameras and sensors in many areas. It’s a sign of the times, one that some call overkill. But don’t be fooled; there are people in this world who hate our country enough that, for whatever reason, they are willing to labor at all costs to topple what they consider to be “The Great Satan.” Despite the inconveniences of the Post-9/11 world, I feel that many of the measures are necessary to protect the sovereignty of our nation, and its citizens therein.
Last year I gathered the stories of several coworkers and posted them to a blog. You can read them HERE
9/11 is the day to remember nearly 3000 people who died because of evil and hate. But to simply remember the fallen is merely a start; we need to remember that each one was a human being, serving a community, paying a mortgage, helping a child. I think we can also use September 11th to mark a new beginning in all of us, as I have; we can all find a way to serve our communities, whether it be giving blood or tutoring an at-risk child. It may even be picking up trash at the park or letting someone merge in heavy traffic. In short, be decent to others in remembrance of 9/11. Some gave their lives in the face of hatred; the least we can do is give some volunteer time to make sure America continues to be a great place. If we keep this up, it will mean that the bombers failed. Plain and simple.