Tomorrow morning, I will engage in what has become an annual ritual: Watching news coverage of the attacks of September 11, 2001 as it played out in real-time. Morbid, maybe, but I think it’s my way of trying to understand the sheer magnitude of this event, which even now – nine years later – remains a mystery to me.
My most vivid memory was the stunned silence that fell over the country, the way we all stopped in our tracks – literally – in a bizarre, semi-silent panic. Once it happened, it seemed, there was nothing to do but wait – for what, we weren’t sure. Direction? Information? A second wave of attacks?
I was living in Virginia at the time and, along with several of my team members at work, had been laid off two weeks earlier. Bored with no where to go, I remember waking up before the sun that day, hitting the gym, then watching CNN to get the morning’s news.
And then I remember the slow, surreptitious crawl of change creeping across the screen – change in our culture, change in news, change in our perception that, somehow, we’re safe at home.
Having checked on family members, secure in their safety, there was little else to do but wait and watch everything play out – the iconic scenes of the President in Florida hearing the news amongst school children at an event, the Mayor of New York walking through the streets wearing a facemask, the flag hanging from the side of the Pentagon near the site of that plane’s crash.
Later, while living in Weehawken, NJ, I joined the locals there to pay respects and watch across the Hudson as the beams of light that mark the site of the World Trade Center came alive each year. Many of them had been there that day. The gatherings on those nights were mini-reunions, neighbors who move among each other on a day-to-day basis taking the time to stop and remember the horrific sight that once filled their front windows and the fear of being so close.
For me, though, the remembering begins every year with that news footage – live coverage of what is arguably this era’s most significant cultural event; I still find it inexplicable.
After that, though, I’ll probably go to the beach and, like everyone else, do the things that make living in this country and being of this country great.