Was it really twenty years ago today?
There are others that would tell a much more tragic version than I. I am not sure I have ever been within a mile of the Two Towers or the Pentagon. If you find a more meaningful recollection of that day, please give it priority. For example, here is an article by the firefighter that led the Pentagon rescues. And here is an article from the Ground Zero efforts.
I do remember when things were a little less scary. I have coworkers that have never gone to an airport and kept their shoes on the entire time. None of my nieces or nephews know what it was like before 9/11.
Oh airports. You used to be so simple. Everybody walked through security together. It did not matter if you had a boarding pass or not. As long as you did not go past the ticket agent, you could stroll around the gates to your heart’s content. Granted, there were very few cellular phones. You had to plan in advance. “I’ll meet you at the gate.” That plan almost always worked. “I’ll meet you at the luggage claim.” Come now. Where is the romance and tenderness in that?
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, was a different world. I did not read the newspapers or watch morning news. As far as I was concerned, everything was normal. I was going to take the bus, run some IMAX movies, and then come home. Simplicity in itself.
I walked out my apartment door and headed down the stairs. I was stopped by my now sister-in-law who lived just underneath my brother and I. (Not an accident. That couple still likes their proximity.) She opened her door and told me the news.
“A plane just hit the Two Towers!”
My response showed how little I grasped the situation. I barely knew where the Two Towers were. I figured that plane crashed happened every day. I assumed that she was spreading news that she thought was important but really had no effect on me. Hence, my reply.
I do not remember the bus ride to work. I do recall two of my coworkers working the phones in the office. “We’re closed today”, my friend told me. We worked on the same block as the Space Needle. There was concern that a plane would strike that landmark as well.
That was when I found out that we were actually being threatened. That was when I realized it was a big deal. I put a VHS tape in the VCR (because ‘90s), and I pushed record. I knew I could not camp out in front of the TV and watch news as it came in. I was never built to handle that sort of onslaught. But I was also a Mass Media student at the time. I did not need my future college degree to tell me I might want to revisit this day in some way. I also went to my local Safeway and bought two copies of The Seattle Times and two copies of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In a filing cabinet or manila folder, sandwiched between bills or birth certificates, my mother has saved a newspaper clipping from when we landed on the moon. I wish that was the newspaper I had. I would much prefer to relive that moment. However, those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it, so I hold on to those papers. (The frame is kept in the back of the closet, horizontally. You can tell by the way the paper is slid to one side.)
I had no specific right to rage. I suffered no great loss. A shift, yes. But I did not attend any funerals. I did not go to any candlelight vigils. There has never been a person in my life that I hate. I prayed for peace. I walked around for the rest of the week and marveled how eerie it was that there were no planes in the sky.
I remember that my hugs increased dramatically over the next few days. People wanted any comfort they could get. I had always been a hugger. It felt like that was the most valuable thing I had to offer.
I listened to other people’s stories. I watched as the comic book community came together to express their pain, their outrage, and their despair. For me, the most iconic image of the event was drawn by Graham Nolan, a key Batman artist in the ‘90s. He drew a police officer running against the panicked throngs.
I made me think about First Responders for the first time. What does it take to run into danger? Firefighters are brave, sure. This was a whole other level. We are talking dozens of stories threatening to crash down to the concrete and you are heading in there? I mean; dang.
There was also Spider-Man. They had gone to all this trouble to shoot a special mini-movie where Spider-Man catches thieves in a helicopter and he traps them in a giant web… between the Two Towers. They even created a teaser poster where Spidey is poking his head out between the Two Towers. Those were removed real quick. When the movie came out in May of 2002, it drew enormous crowds. Folks were ready to see a hero. They were ready for New York to have a win. And with his accident and fully concealing costume, Spider-Man could be anybody. We could all save the day and stop the bad guys.
(I always wondered how they were supposed to get that helicopter down. There was also a discussion as to whether or not Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers should change their name. Since it did not open until December of 2002, they felt it was reasonable to keep the book’s title.)
As the millennium rolled over, there was a pervasiveness of black. Sleek, stylish, trendy; everybody was wearing black. After 9/11, I think we all tried to cheer ourselves up. Even the valets at the Space Needle got orange shirts. Color tried to reinstate some joy.
I remember finally seeing the news footage of the first plane hitting, then the second. I also remember nations all over reaching out to extend their sympathies and well wishes. I remember embracing friends outside of their cubicles. And I remember that for every terrible thing that happens, something good can still come from it.