8:45am on a sunny September morning in New York City, a group of terrorists changed the face of our world in a way that it’s still hard to fathom. First it was an American Airlines 767 that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, then 18 minutes later, United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. An hour later American flight 77 smashed into the west side of the Pentagon building. Finally, a fourth plane, United flight 93, was hijacked just after departing Newark airport, heading for California. On that flight the passengers knew of the other attacks and through their courageous assault on the terrorists, they prevented another crash attack, dying in the process.
About 3000 people died, but its impact, and the ripples of the attack are still felt every time you walk into a government office, go through airport security or even look suspiciously at Muslims or people from the Middle East. And it’s not going to get better.
I can remember we were living in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Silicon Valley at the time of the attack and my (now ex) mother-in-law calling to say “we’re under attack! America’s under attack!” to which I can recall saying “what? I really doubt it.” But she was right: that morning was a wake up call far more jarring than a bucket of water over one’s head, a sudden clutching fear that if they can go after NYC, the terrorists could attack anyone, anywhere, at any time.
That day, the FAA grounded all planes, a situation that remained the following day too. I was very glad to have been home at the time, and I can also recall going for a walk the following morning, 9/12, and marveling at how quiet the skies were without the usual contrails of flights heading west from San José airport. It was quite nice, even if my insides were still jumbled up from the previous 24 hours.
We also consciously decided to not mention anything about the incident to our children, who were then 4 and 1. Our oldest knew something was going on because we were both on edge and visibly anxious, but we were glad to have her at a school where the teachers also decided that the younger children really didn’t need to be awakened to the world through such a horrific experience.
I also remember deliberately not watching the TV coverage. 24hr news channels like CNN live for that sort of incident and they kept playing the same footage over, and over, and over again, some of which was the gruesome sight of people falling or jumping out of the top floors of the World Trade Center. Special effects in movies I enjoy, but a real death? A real mortal injury? Horrible. I can still feel the visceral reaction to seeing and imaging the ghastly last few seconds of those souls.
Thirteen years later and I feel like we’re still just waking up to this darker reality, a world that’s always surrounded us here in the USA but one that we’ve been able to ignore or keep at arm’s length. Al Queda ended that and just like walking out the parental house to make your own way in the world, we’re no longer able to “visualize world peace” and “share the love” and “pray for peace”. It’s a tough world with a lot of passionate people who don’t really like us very much. And that’s a very sobering thought.
God bless, and peace to all of those 3000 souls lost on this day thirteen years ago, to the fathers, the mothers, the brave and the fearful. And blessings on the children whose parents were torn away from them in an instant, a horrible reminder of the fragility of life.
It was the first step in a very long journey for us all, and I’m afraid that the destination isn’t going to be anything like what we hope.