There are very few things that get me to actually shed rolling tears. Discussing 9/11 is at the very top of that short list. Being that yesterday was the recognized government day off for Veteran’s day (the actual day is always November 11, but since that fell on a Sunday this year, we in the US honored our vets the following day), some shows decided to show their respect with a patriotic show.
Last night’s episode of Bones had the 5 interns working together to determine the cause of death of one of the “cold cases” at the Jeffersonian. The results were epically moving.
That’s all I’m going to say about the episode itself, other than one last tiny thing in just a little bit. This ep was one for the ages, and it’s probably one I won’t be able to watch again. I love Bones, but that episode was *extremely* difficult for me to watch. I have a very difficult time discussing those events, yet those very same events shape my every single day. Paradox? Indeed. But it is what it is.
One of the scenes had all 5 interns discussing where they were on that fateful day. It brought to mind my morning of September 11, 2001.
I had to work at 8 am at a call center. I worked collections for Sprint PCS, and my shift started early that particular Tuesday. I got up, showered, and sat down at the computer to check email. A few minutes later, a little before 7, my wife called. She had an overnight job tending two wonderful autistic girls, and her shift was just about over. She asked if I was watching the TV. Well, at 7 in the morning, I generally don’t turn on anything but the computer, so no–I wasn’t watching anything.
“Then you need to turn on the TV.”
“A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” American Airlines flight 11 had just smashed into the north tower.
“Okay. Thanks for the heads-up.”
I turned on the TV and flipped over to CNN. Smoke was pouring out from the north tower. Everyone was scrambling to make sense of what had happened. As I sat there watching, the other plane, United Airlines flight 175, slammed into the south tower. Controlled fear and panic could be heard in everyone’s voices. I sat there with my jaw agape. Alone. Stunned. Nowhere near a state of mind to actually go to work.
But to work I went. Early September in northern Utah still holds some pretty warm weather. I hopped on my bike and rode to work. What would normally be bustling, busy streets were eerily silent and bereft of traffic. And by “bereft,” I mean there was not a single car to be seen. 3 mile bike ride took about 15 minutes. As I walked in the front door, I passed several people walking out, shaking their heads, sobbing. I walked through our security doors, dropped my bag of at my desk, and went to the break room. It seemed like everyone was in there. I sat with a friend of mine and his mom as we watched the horror unfold. On my ride in, the south tower collapsed. I learned of this from my friend, and I sat there, even more stunned and … numb. Yah. Numb. I can’t think of another word for it. I didn’t know what to think, or how to feel. I had no reference frame for this level of terrorist activity, so I really didn’t process anything–I just sat there and watched. The “processing” would come the next night … and it would shake me from the inside out.
We sat there listening to the pundits discuss everything from logistics of saving those above the impact zone, to who was responsible, to the ramifications of the collapse of the south tower.
At some point, I decided that I would not abandon Lori to sit around the apartment and watch this on her own. I called the front desk and informed them that I would not be in that day. The front desk girl said that she watched me walk in, and I told her that I would be leaving to take care of my wife. She was silent for a moment, then she quietly sniffled and eked out a “I understand,” and just hung up.
I stayed for a bit to keep tabs on the news. Reports of other planes being hijacked were rolling in. American Airlines flight 77 was bound for the Pentagon. United Airlines flight 93 was supposed to target the White House, but it never made it. The passengers took on the terrorists, and the plane crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
I knew Lori wouldn’t be home until about 9, so I sat and watched the news for a while longer. As we’re watching, my buddy said, “I can’t believe the other tower hasn’t fallen yet. It got hit first.” In a fit of unbridled hubris, I blurted, “Well, if it hasn’t fallen yet, it’s not going …” and as I said this, the top of the north tower gave out and started crushing the floors immediately beneath it. Once they started collapsing, the rest of the building were quick to follow. Eyes bugged out, jaw unhinged, I sat in humility and embarrassment as I watched the dust cloud envelop all of lower Manhattan. I had had all I could handle. I *needed* to be home. I *needed* to be with my wife.
My manager was sitting at her desk, which was two chairs down from mine. I grabbed my backpack, looked at her, and she looked at me. I said nothing, and she wanly smiled, and I walked out.
The bike ride home was just as lonely. Traffic lights held no meaning; no one was actually driving. It took me less time to get home than it did to get to work because it’s slightly more down hill. That, and I *really* wanted to get home.We called some friends who we knew didn’t have TV. At first, he thought I was kidding. “Craig, this is no joke. The towers are gone, and we’re under attack.” He and his wife and son came over and watched for a good long while.Wednesday night, my wife had to go in for another overnight shift. She left, and I was alone in our apartment. I sat in our computer room and read as many new news articles as I could find. I wanted to make sense of this. I neededto make sense of it.
And I couldn’t. There was simply nothing i could draw on to allow for comprehending this level of hatred towards Americans. As I thought about everything, I started to wonder: “How can I take care of my wife?” “How can I protect her from this?”
I had no answers. In fact, not only did I not have answers, but I didn’t even know how to formulate the questions that were churning in my head.
Finally, a bubble burst somewhere in my chest and head. My body crumpled under the sobbing, shivering convulsions of heaving sobs that I could not control. For the first time in my life, I had only one word that could sum up every question I had been too nervous to ask, every feeling of confusion and shock, every single thought came back to this one word.
I feared for my wife. I feared for our families. I feared for our future children. I feared for our friends.I feared life.
2 years later, I found a cathartic center–a counter-balance to that fear. I was blessed with an opportunity to provide, in some small way, a lending hand to our families, to our friends … to the future well-being of this country. I still have that center and balance. In the 11 years since 9/11, I have maintained a steely exterior. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to put these demons behind me and help me and my family move forward …But every now and then, I get caught off guard, and I remember the fear I felt that one night, and I think of the horror of losing my loved ones in such a horrific manner. Not that I lost anyone that day, but it opened my mind. What if I had lost someone that day? How much different would my world be now? Would I have the strength to go on? I can’t answer these questions because, mercifully, I don’t have to, but there are those who live with this hell every single day. And it’s their loss that overwhelms me.
I cannot watch something like last night’s Bones ep without remembering EVERYTHING about those first two days. I remember the shock. I remember the quiet riding down the street. I remember my college professor carrying on with class and not missing a single beat the following morning–not mentioning it, yet we could totally see it in her eyes, lurking tragically in her tone, her facial expressions. No smile, no jocularity, no … anything. Straight forward professionalism with none of the friendly familiarity in her typical laughter. Gone–all of it. Yet she pushed through and provided us with a day of education, and provided us a sense of normalcy that had just been obliterated.
I also remember the resolve I made to not give in to their fear. I resolved to live my life to the fullest, and help my family live our lives together in peace and love, just like we want–not how they want. I give my wife and girls an extra hug when I think of that day. I watch my girls grow and learn, and I think that maybe, someday, they’ll read about this time in history and wonder how we as a society ever conceived of such horror.
We win, terrorists. Period.11 years later, we are still winning, and we’ll continue to win because love will always conquer fear.