9/11, Past, Present, and Future

How quickly ten years goes by. This day ten years ago, I was on an elliptical trainer at the Powerhouse Gym in Austin, TX. The row of televisions in front of me gradually all flipped to the same images – the World Trade Center. A plane had crashed. Some people interviewed thought it was a small plane, others large. Confusion. How could this have happened?

I remember seeing the fireball of the second plane and crying out, yelling “NO!” People walked by glancing at the televisions. Surprisingly, some kept on with their workout. I could not understand this, and decided it was time to go home. My wife was in the back yard – I yelled for her to come up. We watched together the events unfold. The towers collapsed, and I remember the disbelief – it could not be real. That evening, I saw Congressmen and Congresswomen sing on the front steps of the Capitol Building. For the first time in my life, I realized that our government was small and unable to protect itself…that they had experienced real fear. The singing was for unity, yet it contained desperation.

I remember going back to work that week. There was a fire drill. I was in the staircase, waiting for the people in front of me to move. I wondered how this compared to the people stuck in the stairs of the World Trade Center. Knowing the building was on fire, would I try to get past the people in front of me? Would it even be possible? Would I panic?

In the days that followed, I looked up at the clear blue Texas sky, and did not see a contrail anywhere. This cemented the power of the event. We were a nation shut down, not knowing what else to expect, not knowing who was in control.

During these ten years, I have purchased what 9/11 documentaries are available. I have watched each anniversary come and go. Every time I saw these images or heard relating stories, I have felt hurt and anger at how and why this happened.

This morning, my post-9/11 children had some friends over for a sleepover. I set them up making pancakes. While the kids were cooking, I turned on the television to see the ten year memorial. I was able to see the kids cook while the television was on. From one room to the other, I saw laughter, fun, and friendship, contrasted with sadness of the memorial. One scene came into focus, and finally, the other faded. I had moved from the past to the present. I clicked the remote’s “off” button, not realizing its dual meaning. It is as if I sensed something new from this point forward, and though I do not know what it is, my heart tells me it is positive.

I will never forget the events of 9/11. We were unprepared on many levels that morning, resulting in unparalleled horror. We, as a nation of mixed race, religion, class, and education, we were all attacked that day. It is this same nation that buried their dead, cleaned up the destruction, is building something new, and is moving forward. I am comforted by our common desire for freedom – it is our base, and it is as solid as ever.

NPR’s Morning Edition, Slain Priest: ‘Bury His Heart, But Not His Love’

This American Life, Episode 445, Ten Years In.

Story Corps, September 11, along with the Vigiano’s story.