During the disputed Presidential election of 2000, I registered with CNN for email alerts on breaking news. For about a month between November and into December of that year, I would receive numerous emails from CNN with news alerts. After the Supreme Court decided “Bush vs. Gore,” the email began to peter out and after George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States on January 20, 2001, I received close to no alerts going forward.
For me, the morning of Tuesday, September 11 began much the same way Monday, September 10 had. I drove the 20 minutes or so to work, arriving at about 8 AM. I fired up my computer and geared up for my day. At 8:20, maybe 8:30, I drove out to some client sites – pick-ups or deliveries or whatnot – and arrived back at my office at maybe 9:15. As I logged back into my computer, a string of CNN alerts appeared on my screen – the most recent at the top. I remember reading through them in chronological order. At first I was stunned, then shocked, and then scared.
In our small office, we were all glued to our computers – trying to figure out what had happened. A small television was set up in our conference room and we just sat and watched in amazement. Our offices were directly across the street from the Massachusetts State Police headquarters, which in turn was next door to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Authority. Military armored vehicles blocked access to each compound. The air space over the Boston suburb was silent – no incoming or outgoing flights allowed. It seemed like the world had stopped, save for the emergency response going on across the highway. My cell phone provided sporadic availability – the limited cell coverage at the time was clogged from use. The dial-up internet was slow – bandwidth being taxed as millions logged on to find out news.
It was a time of unbridled fear. I wanted my loved ones close – almost irrationally so. I couldn’t keep my 6-year old daughter any more safe than could her school, but I wanted to be the one keeping her safe. I worked for two Sikh gentlemen and with a host of Indian nationals; knowing an attack of this magnitude could not have come from within and realizing quickly that news outlets were speculating on Islamic extremists, I was afraid for their safety. Sikhs have no relation to the Islamic faith, yet they wear turbans as some Muslims do. I was afraid for ignorant retaliation – those who may be inclined to retaliate will not take the time to figure out who is the enemy. I was afraid for my employees, any one of whom could be the target of xenophobia and attack. I was afraid for the wellbeing of the business – if ownership didn’t feel safe making calls, and if clients were reticent about meeting, the company would shortly begin to fail. I remember telling one employee to be careful, not to display his Quran – horrible advice to have to dispense. Last, I was afraid for my country and what direction it would take.
We had assigned spaces in our parking lot: My space was the last in the row of our assigned spots. After September 11, I noticed the car usually parked in the assigned space next to mine had no longer been there. As it happens, the woman who owned that car and the owner of a business located in our building, began a business trip to Los Angeles the morning of September 11 onboard Flight 11 from Logan Airport. She died as the Boeing 767 crashed into the World Trade Center. Less than a month later, her company died without her guidance.
I would watch videos of the planes striking the World Trade Center over and over, and I sometimes felt overcome with this existential angst – but for the grace of God go I – and anger. I couldn’t fathom making the choices some were forced to make, between jumping out a window to certain death or remaining in a building waiting for certain death. I thought about the babies and children aboard those ill-fated flights and could only hope their parents could have somehow controlled their own fears to comfort their children. And I thought about my own child and the world she would be living in going forward. I wondered about my own strength in the face of adversity and how I would respond.
When air traffic resumed, we were subject to more intrusive security checks – and that was okay. We accepted it, the world, after all, had changed. It didn’t take much, though, to realize that it would not be long before we wouldn’t tolerate long security lines at the airport gate. It didn’t take much to realize how woefully unprepared we were as a nation to combat an attack on our own soil, and it didn’t take long to realize that to ramp up our preparedness, the government would have to take a more activist role.
Some ten plus years hence when I can stomach watching those video clips, I still hurt and I still fight back tears. So many innocent people lost because of random chance – they took a flight they just happened to book or went to work the same way they always did, or responded to an emergency call as part of their job. Countless more who made slightly different choices and were spared. The realization not everything is under your control – that the smallest choices can have enormous consequence – is a constant message.
I realize, too, that I cannot remember the slightest thing about my day on September 10, 2001. I was probably upset the Patriots had been smothered by the Bengals the day before, but other than that not one blessed thing. I remember September 11, 2001 in almost scary detail, and I think it sad that I spend so much time going about my business that I don’t take the opportunity to make sure I’m making the most of my time. And much like the rest of us, I resolve to change that, but quickly slide back into the old habits of complacency. I just hope it’s not another 9/11 event that jars me – or anyone else – out of their complacency. God bless the United States of America.