Today is 9/11, and it's been 7 years that began meaning anything to anyone. I'm not sure what to say about it anymore...or what to think. We all know that it was terrible, I guess we can all agree on that...
Anyway, here is a re-posting of an essay-ish thing I wrote a few years ago on the eve of 9-11 back in 2006:
The eleventh day of September, 2001 began just like the day before. I woke up in the late morning; the sun was streaming through the blinds onto the gray carpet. I remember the zebra stripped pattern it made as I slowly returned to the conscious world. My alarm clock radio was going off. I had it set to a religious AM station (in order to pull me that much faster out of bed to shut it off). Unlike the usual fiery sermons and sobbing testimonials, however, today’s program was much more subdued. Apparently, there had been an “accident” in New York. A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers.
I rushed upstairs and yelled at my mother to turn on CNN. As the television winked to life we put it on channel 44. There were two nearly identical pillars of steel and glass. One was fine, and one was spewing fire and plumes of smoke. Before we could comprehend what we were seeing, a second aircraft suddenly materialized as if by magic. I remember the amazingly slow crash. It was horrific. It was like a bad disaster flick. It was unreal. It was happening, live from New York…
I remember my mother shaking her head, her eyes watering, “This isn’t an accident…somebody is doing this on purpose…” She yelled up to my baby sister, telling her to stay upstairs where she couldn’t see the TV. If that was all that happened, if two planes hitting a New York landmark was all there was…maybe 9/11 wouldn’t be so traumatic. After all, planes crash every now and then. But there was more, much more. As my mother and I sat hypnotized, CNN reported that a rescue effort was underway. NYPD and NYFD were going in; the buildings were going to be evacuated. Order creeping back amidst chaos.
Then the first tower collapsed into a billowing cloud of smoke and death. I’ve never seen a more terrible thing in my life. To know that there were people dying live on TV was bad, but watching their would-be rescuers die too was too much. How many heroic people died that day? How many acts of heroism occurred on September 11, 2001? Maybe as many as there are stars in the night sky. Maybe more. Public servants and first responders always say things like “I’m just doing my job” or something similar. The brave heroes of New York had a job to do.
As corny as it sounds, my mother and I had jobs to do too. Had the terrorist attacks occurred on September 12, 2001 the eleventh would still have been a historic moment (at least for me personally). You see, I was a freshman in college and 9/11 was the day of my first college exam. I went to my American History class, where Dr. Moore looked at us and told us, “I understand if some of you don’t want to take the test today, light of today’s events…however I think it would be best if you all took the test now while the material is still fresh in your minds…”
Dr. Moore passed out the tests after most of us agreed to stay and take the exam. The catastrophe was still on-going at this point, and information was still sketchy at best on a lot of what was actually happening. To alleviate our curiosity (and his) Dr. Moore told us he’d monitor the news and keep us up to date on any breaking reports. This meant that our teacher was out of the room for most of the test as he shuffled back and forth between our classroom and the teachers lounge.
Now, if my own little slice of 9/11 was a Hollywood movie, this would be the scene where everyone bravely takes their tests. Tears streaking down our cheeks, maybe even a few tears dripping down onto our test books. Cue the inspirational music. The truth, the actual history of my first college exam is about as ugly as everything else that happened that brutal day. As soon our professor was out of the room, so too went many of my peer’s ethics. Cheating erupted like wildfire. Approximately 75% of the class was engaged in academic dishonesty. People too lazy to study and read were suddenly benefiting from the New York tragedy. I was horrified for the second time that day. People were laughing and joking. I couldn’t believe people were actually taking advantage of the most horrific thing I’d ever seen. I was in for a rude awakening, because the day wasn’t even half over yet.
I finished up my test and went to my car and listened to the radio. All of the stations were playing essentially the same thing: 9/11 the radio show. Disembodied voices talking endlessly about the need for order and calm. Flights grounded, Presidents safe and secure, bunkers, war, F-18’s over Washington, the Pentagon in flames. Terrorism. I tried munching on a green apple, but the fruit was too sour for me to choke down. I went and bought a cheap, fast food hamburger. I went home briefly and called my then-girlfriend who was at another school, in another part of the state. Her voice was cold and distant. No, she hadn’t seen the second plane, the towers fall, the ash, the fire. Her roommate had told her. Not Ted Koppel or the people at the Today Show…just some random co-ed. I ended the call as quickly as I’d instigated it. There was a disconnection between our thoughts and perceptions. To her it was a bit of news, for me it seemed as if the sky was falling.
I went back to school and finished up my day in classes that I don’t remember attending. Things had calmed back down in my world, at least that’s what I thought. Everyone seemed to be looking over there shoulders, holding there breath, and faking a smile all at the same time. If civilization had collapsed before dinnertime I wouldn’t have been surprised, in fact I was sort of expecting it. We all were. I got in my red Chevy and started to head home for the second time that day. Something was wrong. The intersection less than five minutes from my house was in gridlock. Lines and lines of cars, thirty? Fifty? A hundred? They were all waiting in an endless sea of cars, choking up the roadways, creating chaos thousands of miles from ground zero and Bin Laden (whom I still didn’t know about), because of price gouging. I went home and all was revealed to me by my father.
“I heard on the radio that gas is already ________ dollars a gallon in Kansas.” We had to hurry, before the prices crossed state lines and made there way into Missouri. At least, that’s what my father said. He told me to go back to that parking lot I’d barely managed to crawl through and wait in line for gas…before it was $16 a gallon. Children cheat on tests; adults cheat each other out of money. Ah, capitalism. Once again I was appalled at how people were acting. I refused to go. I refused to take part. My father angrily took my car keys and went himself to buy gas for my car. He returned quicker than I thought him capable of…like everyone that day, he wasn’t sure if gas was going to be $16 a gallon or not…but he’d soon too much earlier in the day to take any chances. He’d seen too much to rule anything out of the realm of the possible.
Before I went to work I went and got the mail, in the stack of envelopes and junk mail was a simple white postcard from the government—it was my draft card. Not a good sign. It seemed as though the country, perhaps the world, was about to erupt in massive conflict. I went to work that night at the drugstore I worked at. There was a cheap little black and white TV perched next to my register. For five hours I got to watch the planes hit the buildings over and over. The towers rose and fell, rose and fell…like a diabolic sea lapping away at the beach of my soul. By the end of the night I was ready to revolt, ready to grab a pitch fork and join an angry mob. This is how human beings are like dominos. Knock one of us over and watch us all scramble to knock each other over.
I don’t recall going to bed that night, but I know I did. Eventually, everything went back to normal. They cleared the debris out from where the Twin Towers stood…and moved it to Afghanistan. Someone squealed to Dr. Moore about the rampant cheating. He came to the next class enraged and nearly in tears. How dare we take advantage of a tragic day and his good nature! I wish I’d been the one to tattle, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t as brave then as I am now. All the gas stations that overcharged and committed the sometimes-sin of price gouging (which is different from supply and demand…how?) were fined heavily and forced to give full refunds back to the masses. The hysteria was far from over, but the “healing” (or “forgetting”) process was underway.
War followed. Then another war followed. Gas didn’t shoot up overnight, instead it’s been steadily rising every since (because that’s legal…doing it overnight isn’t after all). Bruce Springsteen has released two albums (only one about 9/11). Movies are being made/have been made about what happened. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum now have a new blanket to wrap up there lies in: 9/11. Oh, I almost forgot about the flags! Everyone bought flags. American flags made in China. That’ll keep the terrorists from winning.
I wish I could say we as a people all changed. The government got more powers (The Patriot Act). Iraq got rid of Saddam. But Americans are still diluted. I still don’t know why 9/11 happened. You don’t either. No one does, because if someone did know they’d be trying to fix the situation. Not with bullets but with brains. All we have is gangsters, high stakes gang bangers…one gang does a drive-by….so to retaliate the other does a drive-by….it’s an endless cycle of violence. The thugs in Afghanistan and Iraq are no longer in power—the thugs in America still are. Prior to 9/11 I considered myself a Democrat. Post-9/11 I dabbled in Conservatism. Now, today I’m twice as jaded as I used to be. I don’t even want to be associated with either party. I say I’m independent. On surveys I write “other” for political views. Like the Kennedy assassinations, 9/11 has eroded whatever trust and good will most of mainstream America had for its government.
I went to a Blockbuster a few months back, and I heard the strangest conversation. Two of the employees were talking about flight 93. One of the kids was talking about how the plane didn’t really crash in Pennsylvania. The passengers were really being used in an elaborate propaganda campaign—they were really tucked away somewhere at some secret army base. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This is what passes for intellectual conversation about 9/11 in America today. Already 9/11 is a trivia question, a faded bumper sticker, a movie of the week. Did it even really happen? Maybe it’s like the Holocaust, slavery, and the slaughter of the Indians…maybe 9/11 has been blown out of proportion. Maybe there is a secret base where all those fire fighters, police, and innocent people are just…just…tucked away.
The reality is, tomorrow September 11, 2006 is really just another day. In all probability, I will get up, go to school, come home and go to bed without anything too bad happening. My outlook on life will remain frivolous and unchanged. September 11, 2006 will be a non-event with no cultural significance whatsoever. September 11, 2001 however, is a different, more complicated matter. On that terrible day of confusion—chaos, fear, and greed ruled the day. Five years removed from that fateful day, I wonder what this day really means. Should 9/11 be a holiday? (It is) or should 9/11 be a day of stoic celebration (a kind of 4th of July part two?). I think that 9/11 should be a day of reflection—one for us as citizens of a country and citizens of a planet.