Sunday, September 11, 2011
There has been much said in recent days about 9/11/2001 being a day anyone old enough will remember where they were and what they were doing---another JFK assassination moment. However, I must admit the details have been strangely fuzzy for me, to the point I have had to reconstruct the circumstances of the day. Certainly there is much I do recall. But some of the most obvious details have eluded me as I reflect on that day ten years ago.
For example, which day of the week was it? Where exactly was I when I heard the news? How did I first find out about it? What was my life context on that day? Why aren't such bits and pieces seared into my memory?
It was a Tuesday. I know this because I have one of those circular 40-year calendars to tell me the day of the week for any date from 1995-2034. A little over a month before, I had started a new job as a manager in a research and evaluation unit in the Department of Social Services. My new office---and I actually had an office---was in downtown Sacramento, CA in the northwest corner on the 12th floor in one of two buildings widely known by State workers as the "Twin Towers".
The day started like most other work days. I was up early as usual---I like the morning quiet. Then the phone rang. Who could be calling unless it was a family emergency? In fact, it was my wife's mom two hours ahead of us in the Central Time Zone. "Turn on the TV! There's been a horrible air plane accident in New York!"
Still I was not registering the urgency of the call. Plane crashes are usually for the evening news, aren't they? But this wasn't just a crash, mind you. The plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. You've got to be kidding! I remember almost immediately calling my closest high school friends in Dallas to share my disbelief about what we were watching. Secretly I hoped they would tell me this was all just another "War of the Worlds" mass hysteria hoax. It wasn't.
My wife and I sat watching, awestruck and helpless, yet mezmerized by the unfolding events three time zones away. Can't we rewind the movie reel and intercept those planes? How could this have possibly happened? Realizing there was nothing we could do but watch, that's what we did, as both towers fell, the Pentagon was hit and Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.
At that moment we could hardly imagine how we could possibly leave the growing spectacle on TV. But by 7:00 a.m. our interrupted morning routine was beckoning somewhat impatiently as a full hour had evaporated while we watched the continuing news feed. It was past time to wake our grandson up and take him to school---he had just started First Grade the week before, still full of excitement about being a first grader. And there was a full day of work for my wife and me. She was in the middle of a pre-doctoral internship at Yolo County Mental Health and I had a full day of meetings ahead of me.
After making my way through the usual snarled traffic, the office routine sputtered all morning. Everyone was clearly distracted by the weight of the news, although we were disconnected inside our office spaces from any media sources of information about what was happening on the ground. Every news snippet coming in via phone calls from outside spawned a new round of speculation and shock.
Meetings were cancelled---I know this because my planner has all my meetings crossed out---and all but the most critical business was suddenly on the back burner or off the stove all together. A decision about about a multi-million dollar research contract got lumped together with the report about a broken copier. All was eclipsed by questions about how we would know our children would be safe if disaster struck our building. And all those seemingly mindless practice evacuation drills? They now took on new importance.
Then we wondered if there might not be something---anything---we could do individually or collectively to help. It was as if someone had stuck a stick in a giant ant hill and the entire nation was trying to sort out what to do next. Of course, there was nothing we could do for those so far away except to tighten things up our in own house, to hold those close to us dear, to reach out to distant family and friends and to share, even if only virtually, this common national tragedy.
In the years since the events of that day, we have remembered what it is we were doing and how we felt as individuals and as a nation. Now, ten years later, it is good and right that we once again take time to reflect or to do some particular thing to acknowledge our differences and celebrate the strength of our commonalities.
So, today, my Boy Scout Troop will retire several American flags whose service is done. In this small way, we will share the sacrifices made on our behalf, symbolized by the flags we fly. We do it to establish a clear bond between those who have no recollections of September 11, 2001 and those who saw it and felt it.
Always remember. Never forget.