September 11th: One Year Later

Today is September 11, 2002. One year ago today, I woke up bright and early at seven am to the sound of my ringing telephone. One of my close friends was saying, “What do you think about all of this?” I stared at the wall blankly and then asked the obvious question, “What do I think about what?”

She gasped. She said, “Turn on your TV.” I asked her calmly, “What station?” She replied, “Pick one.”

I flipped the TV on CNN, only just then awake enough to hear the panic in my friend’s voice. What I saw there is something I will never forget. The moment I clicked on the television, I saw an image of a 747 flying into one of the World Trade Towers. I watched in horror and sat down on the edge of my bed. It was so surreal that I can almost feel the slow motion of my hand reaching over to shove my husband hard in the shins. I know he sat there stunned as well. I don’t remember him saying anything to me, though he must have. What I remember is my friend saying the following words into the telephone: “We’re going to war.”

Everything that happened in the life of every American for the next twelve months would somehow relate to the events of that day. Not one day has gone by where we have not heard the phrase “September 11th” on the news. My goal here, is to take myself back in time, one year ago, and to shed a little insight into the impact that day had on an average American. Me.

I went on autopilot after I looked at the clock. I ran downstairs and turned CNN on that television as well and continued talking frantically into the phone. My children were dressed and ready for school, I asked them to change their shirts and handed them the flag T-shirts my mother sent them for the fourth of July. Then we sat down, the kids at the table to eat breakfast, me on the couch to listen to the voice of a news anchor that was having as much trouble making sense of what had happened as I was. He reported facts, with a tone in his voice that seemed so worried, so concerned. The first thing I thought of was, “Oh God, it was 9 am when this happened in New York. Everyone was at work… I hope they got out.”

My children watched in confusion and ate their Cheerios. Before I sent my children to the bus stop, I got off the phone with my friend and he asked me, “Mom, why did someone fly a plane into that building?”

I hugged him and said, “Because they don’t like America.” By that point, that was all I was able to figure out. He hugged me back and told me that was silly because America was the greatest country in the world. I remember the tears stinging in my eyes as he said that and kissed him on the forehead, even though I knew his friends would tease him for it later. I told him he was right, and that he should go on believing in that for the rest of his life, no matter how bad things get. My daughter, bless her, didn’t ask me what had happened. I am pretty sure that she had no idea what was going on and figured she’d seen worse things on TV. She and her brother walked down to the bus stop hand in hand that day though, and I could see him quickly talking to her. Likely, he was trying to make sense of what happened too and was telling his sister everything he’d been able to understand in that hour of watching the news.

My friend pulled up in the driveway ten minutes later. We sat down and watched the news together and for the first time, we heard the names: “Al Qaeda” and “Osama bin Laden”. And then the country we would later drop bombs on, Afghanistan. By lunch, we’d both had enough. We turned off the news because we couldn’t see another image of those planes flying into the towers and buildings that had once been monuments to modern technology crumbled to the ground in a plume of smoke and dust. We didn’t say it, but our minds were on the people inside the World Trade Center, we prayed to God for their lives, though neither of us prayed as often as we should have before then. We knew God would understand. I remember thinking that another friend of ours was on inactive reserve in the military and that if we went to war, she could get called back to duty. We decided then that she and another friend would shut up their houses and we would all move into mine, as it was the largest and take care of all the children of our friends who would go overseas to serve their country.

I have to wonder how many young men signed up for the service that day. I have never seen any figures, but I imagine army recruitment rates skyrocketed for the next month at least.

When all was said and done, we discussed what we knew. A man, named Osama bin Laden, son of a Saudi oil tycoon, was the leader of a terrorist group known as Al Qaeda. Somehow, it became known that Al Qaeda was responsible for hijacking four planes, two of which were flown into the WTC, one hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed into a barren strip of land in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t clear why that day, but it was obvious to me that it was because brave, patriotic Americans who chose to die rather than let more suffer at the hands of terrorists had foiled the plans of the hijackers. Their sacrifice was the greatest sacrifice of all and so totally selfless that I compel the families of those who died on that flight to remember their loved ones as heroes forever more.

These people, and the firefighters and police officers and volunteers who spent months sifting through rubble to search for the bodies of people who were trapped in the twin towers are the true heroes of September 11th.

At the end of the day, when it had sunk in and the sheer audacity of what had been done started to raise my ire, a small group of us gathered in our basement to discuss the events of the day and the possible outcomes for the future.

One friend, a master strategist among us, said that we could expect a string of smaller attacks all over the country, from New York to Los Angeles, because the goal of this attack was to create panic, the best way to keep the panic levels up was to attack small strategic targets all across the nation and force the United States to do something stupid in retaliation, like close its borders or drop bombs on someone.

Another said that things were going to become like 1984. That everyone would be watched closely and that extreme measures that limited the freedom of the American people would take place, which is precisely what the terrorists wanted to begin with. Their goal, he said, was to change the way of life in America forever. He added that some people simply could not stand the idea of a free country where you can buy just about anything if you have enough money, and say anything you want to whomever you want, and where women brazenly wear their hair uncovered along with other various garments that offend the senses of your average practitioner of fundamentalist Islam.

I listened to all of this, positively stunned. I could not imagine someone not wanting me to have my rights. I could not fathom the idea of not wanting to be free to do as you choose. I still can’t understand it and by God, I will never, ever cover my hair.

Tonight, we are gathering again. The same small group that gathered last year to discuss the events of those dark days one year ago. The days where we stood in alarm every time the EBS was tested, the days where thunderstorms awoke us in the middle of the night with thoughts such as, “My God, they are dropping bombs on the air force base.” We will go over those old issues again and still, regardless of all of this conversation, no matter what we do, we can never go back in time. We can never change what happened that day, nor will we ever be able to ignore its impact on American culture.

Terrorists chose that day to change our world forever, to take away our rights and freedoms. They certainly changed our world all right. I wear red, white and blue nearly every day now. A flag hangs tall and proud in my front window and the back seat of my car is spattered with stars and stripes. Oh yes, we have changed. Though somehow, I cannot help but think that this patriotism that has been inspired in all of us, hasn’t been the reaction they expected at all. I am thankful for that.

We have now been given a reason to fight and die for what we believe. All the terrorists did was send us a wake up call that we took seriously. They’ve awakened the sleeping giant. Japan realized their mistake too late during World War II, I imagine the terrorists are only now realizing it, and the moment those planes flew into the WTC, it was already too late for them.

“America, America God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”