Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering September 11th + 2922

Two thousand twenty-two days have passed since the morning that changed the world. Were you to read one name per day, you would still be reading the list of the names of the people who lost their lives.

Every year, it seems, the memory of that day fades a little more in my mind. Yet every year, I feel compelled to tell my story of the September 11 attacks.

I woke up listening to the alarm radio as I usually do. Some pop song was playing on the local Dallas top 40 station as I slowly allowed my eyes adjust to the light streaming into my apartment window. My wife was in the restroom going through her morning ritual preparing for class. We were both attending classes at our university at the time, but our classes wouldn't begin for another hour or so.

After the song ended, local radio host Kidd Kraddick, (I don't know why I remember this), came on the air and said, "We didn't want to alarm anyone, but we have received word that a plane has crashed into a building in New York City."

Jumping out of bed, I yelled to my wife, "Turn on the TV. A plane crashed into a building."

She came rushing from the bathroom and asked what I thought was a crazy question at the time, "Was it an accident?"

"Of course it was an accident," I said.

When we turned on the television we saw this:

The image was at such an angle that I could only see what I thought was one building and a plane slamming into the side of the building. Questions flashed across my mind.

They have a video of the plane hitting the building? Why are they replaying it? How come the building is already on fire before the plane even hit it?

Then they showed it from a different angle.

Wait... a second plane hit another building? "Good God, we're being attacked!"

I know my wife and I must have been talking to each other, but the only thing I recall saying to her is, "What about all those people? Those buildings must be full of people. How will they get down?"

Moments later reports came in of rumbling at the Pentagon. When they showed the picture of the Pentagon, there was no doubt, this was not just an attack. We were at war.

I ran to the phone to call my mother who is a teacher and was already beginning her class for the day. I said, "Are you watching TV?"

"No... I'm teaching. What's up?"

"Mom, two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York. And mom," I began to choke up, "mom... they have also hit the Pentagon."

The rest of the conversation is completely lost to my mind.

We knew we needed to get to class because we were not sure whether classes were canceled or what the plan was, so my wife and I gathered our supplies.

As we walked toward the door, the unthinkable happened. One of the towers fell.

We were drawn back to the television, but we had to leave for class. So we turned on our radios and listened to everything that was happening. I learned of the second collapse while listening to Gary McNamara on WBAP who was filling in for the normal morning radio host, Mark Davis. I believe Mark was on vacation at the time in Mexico and would later find himself stranded there due to the FAA grounding all air traffic.

When I arrived home from school, I called my boss to see if I needed to come into work that afternoon. I was working at DFW airport at the time, and hoped that he would say to stay put. He did not.

So I drove to one of the nation's busiest airports on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 and did not see one single plane in flight. When I arrived I found literally thousands of people stranded at the airport, most of them in clusters around television sets trying to get more information about the day's events.

Remarkably there were people who had been in meetings all day long and had not heard what had happened. I recall one businessman saying to a coworker that he needed to run catch his flight, and I had the responsibility to tell them that all the air traffic in the nation was grounded and directed them to a television set.

The events of September 11th were geographically distant from my home in Dallas, Texas, but we were all impacted by them. A few weeks after the attacks I lost my job because people no longer wanted to have their meetings in an airport.

The attacks impacted me much more deeply than just the loss of a job. For years after the attacks, I still never went a day without thinking about those towers burning or the people falling. Even today, eight years later, I still look at low-flying airplanes and think, what if that's the next one? Every time I go to downtown Dallas, I look at the buildings and imagine how tall the World Trade Center towers were and think about all the people they held.

Life after September 11th will never be the same. In many ways, I guess, life shouldn't be the same.

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