September 11, 2006

The following is something that I wrote a few days after September 11, 2001. Figured today would be a good day to share…


Tuesday, September 11, 2001. To mark the opening day of the United Nations General Assembly, it was to be the International Day of Peace. In an ironic turn of events, it was instead a day of pain, confusion, anger, and sadness that none of us shall ever forget.
Just days before, I had spent my lunch hour contemplating a scenario in which a fictional group of terrorists hijacks a bus full of schoolchildren. This is the plot of a story I’m thinking of writing, the idea coming to me as I stood at the bus stop with my daughter.
Today, terrorism has paralyzed our country in a way that no fictional work ever could. They say that truth is stranger than fiction; well, guess what – it’s a whole lot more frightening too.

The morning began much like any other. Get up, get ready, get going. Somewhere though, unbeknownst to the millions of people whose lives were about to be changed irrevocably, it was foremost in someone’s mind that today would be a good day to die, taking as many innocents with them as they could. While citizens followed the morning routine of any other idle Tuesday, plans were being set into motion that would ensure this day would go down in infamy.

Reports of a plane crashing into one of the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center just before 9:00am EDT were laced with significant amounts of confusion. Was this a terrible accident? A malfunction? Or more hopefully, a scene from a movie? Eighteen minutes later, the truth became shockingly apparent; as the world looked on in horror, a second plane’s deliberate path into the remaining tower guaranteed that their identical natures would be preserved, even in ruin. Twin columns of smoke and flame filled the sky as onlookers everywhere struggled to make sense of this devastating turn of events.

Americans collectively held their breath, only to release it in a gasp of astonishment as things went from bad to worse. A third airplane had struck, of all places, the center of our nation’s Defense Department – the Pentagon. Where were these planes coming from? Who was at their controls? As we struggled with the answers to these and many other questions, we were hit with yet another blow: a fourth plane downed in a Pennsylvania field. At nearly the same time, the sustained damage proved too much for the wounded towers in New York, and one by one they fell to the ground. By the time the dust settled, they lay like fallen soldiers – a 5-story pile of concrete, steel, and other debris holding an untold number of human casualties.

It began with all the makings of a beautiful late-summer day.

Two hours, four hijacked airplanes, and three decimated buildings later, many were left waiting nervously for the other shoe to drop, and praying not to be underneath it when it did.

Several days later, the immediate threat of further attack seems past, yet the whole heart-wrenching ordeal is far from over. Airport security must be tightened and in some cases redefined to ensure our safety in the air. Authorities  struggle to piece together events that led up to this vicious attack so that we may one day know who was responsible. It will be weeks, if not longer, before rescue workers and clean-up crews are able to sift through the smoldering rubble of the three individual crime scenes searching for survivors, recovering casualties, and tallying the damage both to life and property. What will require the longest recovery, however, is something which afflicts each and every one of us at this moment: the loss of our peace of mind.

About a week before the attack, the apartment complex where I live was the victim of vandalism. Nothing was broken or stolen, but several signs throughout the community were spray-painted. There didn’t seem to be cause for concern, however, the more I considered the incident, the more I was bothered. It had been a cool night, and I’d delighted in turning off the air conditioning in favor of sleeping with the windows open. One of the signs that was damaged is no more than twenty feet from my bedroom window, and I never heard a thing. The realization that some unknown person had been that close to where I lay sleeping was disconcerting, to say the least. Obviously whoever committed this crime has no respect for the property of others. Who is to say they don’t hold the same lack of regard for human life? I found myself wondering just how close evil had come to my bedroom window that night.

That same evil, magnified a thousandfold, walks among us now.
Perhaps it has always been there, at the next table in our favorite restaurant, in the car behind us on the highway, sitting beside us on an airplane – hidden in plain sight. We wanted to believe that it could never happen here, but this senseless, unprovoked act of terrorism has made its presence something we can no longer ignore. How do you fight back against a faceless, nameless enemy whose sole grudge against us is the country in which we live? There is but one solution.

We go on. We grieve for those who perished needlessly. We give aid to those injured and to those who have lost friends and family to this destruction. We repair and rebuild the damage to our property. Most importantly, we live our lives, not in fear of what could be, but in the certainty of what will be. The emotions caused by this terrible attack – fear, anger, disbelief, sadness – may be used to fuel us, but it is unacceptable to allow them to rule us.

If we do that, they win.

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