Some people want to remember every little detail about September 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks. Some people just want to forget.
I am in the group that wants to remember.
I was stuck in traffic that morning on the way to a doctor’s office in Bethesda (suburban Washington DC) for my annual physical. I was listening to the DJs on my radio station doing their crossover from one show to the next. One of them interrupted the jovial conversation with an alarming “oh my God! An airplane just hit the World Trade Center in New York.” The on air studios have a TV in the corner to catch breaking news and he was reacting to graphics he saw flashing across the screen.
News that it was a large airliner not a small traffic plane had just been announced when I arrived at the doctor’s office parking lot. No one in the office had heard anything. By the time I was done with the exam and back in my car, the second plane had hit the towers, a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, DC was being evacuated and Bethesda was in full gridlock. The first thing I heard on my car radio was an unconfirmed report that one of the towers had collapsed.
Fear and uncertainty were everywhere. You could hear it in the newscaster voices. I heard it in my wife’s voice when I finally reached her on the phone half way through the two-hour commute home, a ride that normally would have taken thirty minutes.
My memory of the rest of the day is in fragments:
- Hugging like it was the end of the world when I finally got home
- Putting our July 4th flags back in the yard
- Watching hours of TV coverage
- Wondering where the President, Vice President and members of Congress were
- The car dealer staying open till we could get there to pick up my car from the service - department, even though they had no other customers that day because everyone was home watching the TV coverage
- A feeling of civility among total strangers, such as drivers on I-270 actually letting cars into their lanes rather than cutting them off
- More American flags going up on houses, bridges, buildings, vehicles
- F-16 military jets were the only thing flying
- Jumping every time I heard a siren
- Anger at some unknown enemy
- Fear that more attacks were coming
More than anything I remember the feeling that we, citizens of our towns, states and country, were all emotionally huddled together, ready to help and comfort each other; a proud feeling of patriotism. We are Americans – we will help each other recover first, then we’ll find out who did this to us and punish them. Then we’ll find a way to prevent this from ever happening again.
For me, remembering the details of that day, from the events to the feelings, helps me confirm my belief that even though we are often a divided country, we have the capacity to unite as one. That is the one positive feeling to emerge that day and it is a feeling I want to remember the rest of my life.