Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Seems Like An Eternity

This morning the skies above my home are a piercing, cloudless blue, so blue it is almost painful to look at. The temperature is perfect and the forecast is for a perfect day.

This morning looks like that same morning 15 years ago. I am watching the news from that day on Youtube leading up to the planes hitting the buildings and everything is light and fun on the news. It was just that kind of a day. I went to work at my office for Fidelity Investments anticipating a typical boring day. It wan't long when things started to go haywire. The first reports came out. The internet kept crashing and pages like went down so we didn't know what was going on. I got on the phone with my wife at home who was watching he news live and reporting what was going on. Most of my co-worker's spouses were also at work so I had one of the few contacts that could see what was going on. My wife and I were talking when the second plane hit. I knew something was wrong, really wrong and that this couldn't be just a terrible accident. I remember getting more and more agitated because at first we didn't know what was happening but then we sort of started to realize that this was a serious attack. The rumors started immediately and I remember a co-worker who was kind of a liberal of sort going on and on about not assuming they were Islamic terrorists. It turns out of course that they were. I don't remember when it happened but I went from agitation to white hot anger, an anger made all the worse by the complete impotence I felt in an office building in northern Kentucky. It must have been like this on December 7, 1941 when the attacks were reported a world away and I am sure people knew that day that something changed.

As the images and footage came out we began to realize just how bad it was. People below the impacts rushing out of the buildings while firefighters and cops rushed in. People looking out of windows waiting for rescuers that never made it. Then some people ended up jumping like the infamous "falling man" photo. I don't remember seeing a lot of these photos until much later. It was already too horrible to see the burning and then collapsing towers on TV over and over. I don't think we could have handled seeing pictures like the one above. At some point we began to look at each other and realize that a lot of planes were still in the air and we were in buildings with thousands of workers and that maybe we should get out of there. We ended up leaving early and I still remember a friend that I worked with joking about going to play 18 holes because the course would be pretty much empty and I still want to punch him in the mouth 15 years later. I went home to my family and was glued to the TV and internet.

Those first few days were incredible in so many ways. When I went back to work I drove up I-75 to get there and the sky always was full of planes taking off and landing at the Cincinnati airport but the skies remained empty for days. When the first places did get back in the air I remember seeing them with fear. I remember those early days mostly in iconic photos and events. President Bush being alerted at the elementary school, his speech ate the National Cathedral. The first foray into Afghanistan to put the terrorists on notice that we were coming. For me the brief comments President Bush made at the site of the collapsed towers were his finest moment, his "Day Of Infamy" moment.

That moment still, all of these years later, brings tears to my eyes. We knew that someone had taken a shot at us and scored a major hit. Thousands were dead. We thought a new era of terrorism was upon us. But most of all we wanted vengeance. We would clear the rubble, bury our dead and rebuild but something else had to happen. Those people we saw later cheering and celebrating the successful attacks needed to be dealt with, and dealt with violently, and America was pretty universal in the opinion. To my deep shame I would say that in those early days if someone has proposed bombing the entire Muslim world into a parking lot I would not have objected. Looking back through our history I understand why America felt virtually no qualms about targeting civilian centers in Germany and Japan during World War II. They started the war, we were going to finish it and even the women and children were guilty by association. The same with 9/11, if we killed some non-combatants, so be it. It is an ugly memory of myself in my own mind.

It wasn't very long after that day that I started to look at options for entering the military even though we had five kids and I had a career making good money. I cam awfully close to entering, even to the point of getting the required physical at the recruitment center. I didn't go to office candidate school and I am glad now that I didn't (for the most part).

15 years ago on 9/11/01 my oldest child was 8. My kids, three of whom are now adults, grew up with the reality of 9/11. So much of our life as a people has been impacted by this event. One third of my life has been post 9/11 and everything from air travel to endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been changed.

Looking back now at the events that followed 9/11 brings a different kind of anger. I see a lot of people who, like Rahm Emmanuel would say later, didn't want to let a good crisis go to waste. The grossly misnamed "Patriot Act", the loss of civil liberties, the excuses to invade Iraq, the thousands of dead and maimed Americans and far more civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our response to 9/11 was understandable at the time but almost indefensible now.

This morning as I reminisce and bring those painful memories back to the surface I realize how raw those emotions still are. I still am not sure what the terrorists hoped to achieve that day but neither they nor us could have anticipated what we have now, the utter disaster that is the Middle East from Iraq to Syria to Yemen. All of those intervening years with almost no terrorist activity in the West and suddenly we have terror attacks from San Bernadino to Orlando to Paris. We live in a world shaped by 9/11.

Never forget. Never forget that day and those who died. Never forget how quickly men sought to use this tragedy to their advantage. Never forget that it is always foolhardy to respond without thinking. My prayers today are with the families who have had to deal with the death of loved ones for a decade and a half. My God grant them the peace that can only come from His Son.

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