Remembering 11 September 2001

I was on my way to work when they said on the radio something was wrong. The details were scarce, but an airplane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Then the other. And as I was pulling into the parking lot, the news came that one of the towers had collapsed.

The day didn’t get any better as it wore on. I remember it well. Looking back at what I wrote on that day, some details faded over the decade, but my recollection of most of the day is vivid. I can tell you more about that day than I can most of the days of the past week.

I sat in the parking lot and listened to what the radio DJs were saying about what was happening in New York. Once it was clear they didn’t have any new news, I went inside. Needless to say, there wasn’t much work getting done in there. People were rounding up televisions from wherever they could. We had one, but no antenna. I managed to rig something that worked well enough to get one of the local channels. Others were scouring the Internet for news. As the minutes and hours progressed, we learned the second tower had fallen, that the Pentagon had been hit, and that a fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. Early reports said a Palestinian separatist group was claiming credit for the attacks. Those, of course, turned out to be wrong.

We scrambled for news all day, but it wasn’t long before all the usual news sources were inaccessible. Web traffic was just too high. I started checking British news sites, which weren’t suffering from quite as heavy of a load. That worked for about 30 minutes, maybe an hour, before they, too, couldn’t keep up with demand. We traded URLs for second-tier British newspapers back and forth for the rest of the day, hoping to find some scraps of news.

Along the way, we might have gotten some work done, but if we did, it wasn’t much.

The details we all know now didn’t come until later. If I heard the names al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden at all that day, it would be another day or two, at least, until they stuck in my mind.

I went to church that evening, and I don’t remember how long I stayed, but it was pretty late. Our church invited all the other churches in Oakville to come over. Most, if not all of them, took us up on the offer. 800 people showed up. I didn’t think we had 800 chairs, but I guess we managed something. In 2001, there probably weren’t any other churches in Oakville that could accommodate a crowd that size.

I have a blog entry dated 12 September 2001, posted in the wee hours of the morning. So I came home and spent some serious time writing. Different people deal with tragedies in different ways; writing about it helps me more than anything else. What I wrote that day is extremely difficult to read. I was all over the place that night.

Over time, more details came out. As did responses. Today there are many and divided opinions about what’s happened in the 10 years since that day.

I mourn the 2,977 deaths of the victims of the attacks, and the countless other shortened lives due to the aftermath.

I mourn the 20,000 casualties we and our allies have lost in wars in the Middle East in the last 10 years.

Whether I want to or not, I think about 11 September 2001 every time I fly. Prior to that day, I enjoyed flying immensely. I haven’t had a pleasant experience on an airplane or in an airport since, and today, I dread it.

Politically, we’re more divided than we were 10 years ago. That didn’t start on 11 September 2001, but it gave us more things to fight about. I don’t think we really needed that.

We’ve had heroes, too. Most people know the story of Todd Beamer, and the story of Pat Tillman. We’ve had many others who didn’t die. Corporal Cory Szucs is a recent example. The 21-year-old Marine lost a leg to an IED explosion. On 29 August 2011, he threw out the first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game. Indians legend Jim Thome was the first to congratulate Cpl. Szucs and ask to have his picture taken with him and an autograph. There are 118,000 others like Cpl. Szucs if you count contractors. I don’t think Jim Thome has enough time or enough room for pictures with all of them.

Of course we know a lot more now than we knew on the day it happened. We know who did it, and we know some of what they were thinking. But if my son asks me today why those bad men flew those airplanes into those buildings, I don’t know that I can completely answer the question. Osama bin Laden hated our worldliness, to be sure. But given what we learned about his vanity earlier this year when we finally found him, I don’t know that he had all that much room to talk. Then again, something I told my boss a few months ago rings true. Often what we hate most about other people is what we hate most about ourselves. Because there are countries that have legitimate beefs with us, I wondered at the time if perhaps we had done something gravely wrong to offend Afghanistan. Now I’m just inclined to think Osama bin Laden was probably mentally ill, but, unfortunately, charismatic enough to compel others to carry out his aggressions, and wealthy enough to finance them.

That’s the best I can do for motive. I’m a little more clear on what he wanted to accomplish. I do believe he wanted to draw us into a long, drawn-out guerrilla war, and that he wanted to bankrupt us. He succeeded on the first count. The second count proved more difficult, but younger generations could very well be feeling the financial aftereffects of this after my lifetime is over.

And near the end of what I wrote a decade ago, I warned that if we walked too far down the road of trading liberty for safety, in time, we would regret it. The majority of people who fly on a regular basis would probably say I was right about that. That we did go too far down that road, and that we do regret it.

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