Day by Day

Monday, September 13, 2004

Regarding September 11th

The Eleventh passed pretty quietly here. I thought of blogging a couple times on Saturday, but I knew I'd have little of value to say, especially since there are innumerable other places online to read about how people regard the events commonly referred to as "9-11".

I reckon my reluctance to even try to memorialize the day is the result of a couple things, key of which is that the whole event seems remote to me, ancient, surreal. I think that in large measure that's because I worked through that day. I was second in command at a small company at that time and the CEO asked me, roundabout 1130, "Should we go home?"

I replied: "No. We should keep going."

I'm not sure why. Maybe I wanted to be defiant in some incredibly small way, though "incredibly small" doesn't really cut it when the insignificance of my day that day is compared to the days other had.

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I will never forget PRECISELY where I was when I heard the first news. I was driving, about three miles away from work, listening to FM Y-100 out of Philadelphia. They came out of a song and the morning guy said: "We've news of an incident in New York. It seems a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. We'll keep you posted."

Then they played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana.

I could tell you EXACLTY where the front tires of my 1994 Honda Accord were when he said that.

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I drove faster. I wanted to get to work and surf the news. When I arrived, everyone else there was oblivious to what was happening.

The Internet was jammed. Fox News, CNN, NBC, every news dot com was inundated. I finally got a look by crossing the pond to BBC. I said to my coworker Bob, asking him over the cubetops, "Bob, have you seen the news?"

And he said: "What news?"

That was probably about 0900. Roundabout 0945, my friend Don started calling every fifteen minutes, saying "Oh my God. Are you watching this? Are you seeing this??" At first he was incredulous. He calls back, almost breathless, when the Tower Two collapses. Ditto Tower One. Roundabout noon he calls again. He’s babbling, undoubtedly, I think to myself, at least halfway through a fifth of Jim Beam. Don probably opened the bottle at ten that morning, breaking the tax seal of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, pouring over ice, then downing it. Repeat until incredulity is muted, then repeat again.

When he called at noon, he just pretty much read the TV screen to me, blathering manically like an excited schoolboy to whom the cute girl in class has just said hello. I heard Don, but today I cannot remember a word he said.

I just remember going out back of the building to catch a smoke, and looking up at the sky, neither seeing planes nor hearing them. I remember thinking that was unusual, since the business park where I worked was on approach to Philly International. On normal days, it was plane after plane overhead, with traffic copters interspersed early and late in the day. But on 11 September 2001, it was void and silence. I remember my hand shaking as I reached into my pack of Parliaments after deciding to smoke two in a row.

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So I missed the event when it was happening. It was all like a video to me, in a way, surfing all morning and afternoon then arriving at home about 1800 to watch the replays on TV. To this day it seems surreal. Some people have criticized Condi Rice for saying that the idea of deliberately flying planes into buildings was "unimaginable". Well, I still cannot imagine it. Seriously.

What kind of mind does that sort of thing?

But I’d like to not get started on that topic, and I think most readers at 4RWWs know the answer, anyway.

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Ah, well. I think I felt no great urge to write on Saturday because I feel removed from the event, as if I have no connection to it. Almost, anyway. There’s one component of 9/11 that does impact me, that causes me to stop and stare blankly into space, to put my chin on my hand and ponder, feel my eyes fill a bit, as I imagine the event as it occurred and marvel at the strength of the human spirit and what the human spirit will do when confronted with a seemingly impossible situation. I marvel at how seemingly ordinary men and women and can rise up together to fight something they neither asked for, nor deserved, nor were trained in any way to deal with.

Dave Barry explains it, better than I could hope to, here.

That's it.

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