Today is the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. . .
I think it was a Tuesday morning; for whatever reason, I was running late that morning, and didn't get in to my office until after 9:30. As I arrived, and began getting my work-station set up for the day - unlocking file cabinets, turning on my computer - one of the three co-workers who shared my four-person cubicle was all aghast, asking me if I'd heard the news.
Oddly, I hadn't. I usually spent a good portion of my commute with my radio tuned to a sports-talk station, but on that day, I'd left my radio turned off, so I arrived at my office completely unaware of what was happening 600 miles to the east.
She went on to explain that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, and at first it had seemed like an accident. but when another plane crashed into the other tower, and a third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, it was clear that this was no accident.
I linked to one of the News websites, and for the rest of that morning, there wasn't much work done in our office, as we all watched the drama play out on our computer screens. What I remember is the confusion - four planes had 'fallen off the screen', but only three had crashed into what were obviously targets of choice (although whose choice, and to what end, were as yet unknown); where the fourth plane might be, or what its designated target was, weren't yet known. Then there were rumors of a plane crash in Pennsylvania, and while all that was still churning, the WTC towers fell, first one, and then the other.
And that absolutely stunned me. I am an engineer by profession, and by now, I understand what happened, but at the time, I was utterly stunned and flabbergasted that a plane crash could lead to the collapse of an entire building, especially one the size of the World Trade Center towers.
A group of folks wandered down to the cafeteria, where there were TVs tuned to CNN. For a while, we were just glued to the screens, as the images played over and over of planes crashing into the WTC towers. The second plane was essentially caught live, as the cameras were trained on the smoke billowing from the first crash. And then, as the towers continued to burn, we watched them collapse live.
After a while, I couldn't watch any more, as it began to sink in that I wasn't just seeing a plane crashing into a building, or a building burning and collapsing, but I was seeing thousands of human lives ending before my eyes - each spectacular fireball of a jet crashing into a building was the instant extinguishment of hundreds of human lives, and the slow, agonizing collapse of each tower was the end of perhaps a thousand more. As the obscenity of it all finally began to sink in, I couldn't watch anymore; I had to turn away.
I struggled to make any kind of sense of it. The pure evil of it was unfathomable - the unprovoked murder of thousands of innocent people whose only 'crime' was going to work that morning, was - and still is - incomprehensible. I had a deep sense of the profound corruption of human nature, and in the back of my head, the thought was lurking that I didn't want to live in a world where people who were supposed to be made in God's image and likeness could do such things.
A couple days later, my comapny gave all of its employees time to participate in the national Time of Mourning. I went with a couple guys to a nearby church; it wasn't my church, since I worked (as I still do) over an hour from home; it wasn't even a Catholic church. It was just relatively nearby. I joined in the mourning, and I was simply overcome by the sadness of thousands of widows and orphans made bereft of their fathers and/or their mothers, and thousands of lives snuffed out, in an hour's time three days earlier, at the hands of an unfathomable, demonic evil. For a long time, I could only sit there and weep. The tragedy hadn't really touched me personally - as far as I know, I didn't personally know any of the victims, but you know, the dead were all my countrymen, and my neighbors, and I was clear enough that the perpetrators of the evil regarded my life, and those of my family and friends, with the same degree of contempt they did those who had been on the planes, or in their offices, that morning.
I still cannot begin to understand the depth of evil, the viciousness of hatred, the bloodlust, that animated the events of that day. And honestly, I hope I never do. . .
A couple other random memories from those days. . .
Of course, as soon as the nature of the attack was understood, all planes in US airspace were immediately grounded indefinitely. For a few days afterward, there were no planes in the air over the entire United States. I remember how odd, even spooky, it was, as I drove to work on subsequent days, to see no planes in the air, no contrails snaking across the sky. And I remember thinking how odd it was that such mundane things as a lack of contrails would register so large in my awareness.
And how oddly comforting it was, a few days later, when I saw my first plane in the air after flights were resumed. . .
A few days after September 11, there was the whole 'anthrax scare', in which a few apparently random (or at best, tenuously connected) individuals were infected with anthrax sent to them in the mail. And for weeks, anthrax added another layer of texture to the overall terror of the times.
One day, I was driving to work, on a rural stretch of freeway that I traveled every day, when, all of a sudden, in the middle of noplace, traffic came to a complete and utter halt. For over an hour, we just sat on the road, not moving, wondering what in the world was causing the problem. I called my office to let them know that I was stuck in traffic, and would be in as soon as I could.
Then a small plane appeared, and began crop-dusting the field adjacent to where we sat halted on the road. A cold chill ran down my spine while the crop-duster made his back-and-forth passes across the field, as I considered the possibility that a trap had been set for all of us on the road that day, and wondering whether one of the passes of the crop-duster might be right along the column of parked cars, 'dusting' us all with anthrax, or some equally-lethal bio-toxin.
I switched my car's ventilation system to 'internal recirculation', and watched intently as the small plane finished dusting his field and flew off. And then I breathed a sigh of relief. . .
And, in the fullness of time, the accident ahead of us that had blocked the freeway, was cleared, and we continued on our way. . .