Sunday, September 11, 2011

That day

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up – reluctantly, as usual on weekdays – at 6:25 in the morning. My alarm clock awakened me with KROQ-FM, which at that time was the one saving grace of the morning, for that was the time for Kevin and Bean and their motley crew. The first thing I heard was a commercial for the Latin Grammy Awards, which were to air that evening, and I wondered why the Grammys needed a separate Latin ceremony.

After the commercial aired, Ralph Garman, the KROQ entertainment reporter, spoke in a tone unusually serious. He told us about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York.

I went to the bathroom and washed my face quickly during the commercial break, imagining a small Cessna-type plane crashing into the pavement between the Twin Towers.

When I was done washing my face, Ralph told us that two planes had crashed into the Trade Center. At that moment, radio had become inadequate. I went to the living room and turned on the television.

On every channel that mattered, I saw the Twin Towers on fire. No Cessna could do that much damage. The planes were commercial jets, jets carrying tens of people.

When jets run into buildings, people die.

And then, something was happening at the Pentagon. Another plane – or maybe it was a helicopter? – had crashed right into the hub of America’s military.

At that moment, I felt the icy grip of pure fear that hadn’t been experienced in America since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

What was going to happen next?

Was this just the advance guard of a fleet of planes traveling across the oceans, carrying bombs that would destroy everything that was precious to us?

Was this the end?

I was alone. I had no friends nearby. I had to be with people.

All I could do was drive to my job as I normally would have.

The Twin Towers disappeared from the Manhattan landscape during my commute. I was stunned and nearly silent for the rest of the day. Almost everyone else was, except for those whose job it was to speak.

I was too scared to cry. Too worried to grieve.

For the next days, I flinched when birds zipped through the plane-free sky. I left the TV on all the hours I was at home, something I never did otherwise. Comforting imaginings of golden-haired angels holding large white eggs for me to sleep in were now impossible. And, for the one and only time, I found comfort in the words of President George W. Bush.

In Orange County, far, far away from the rising ashes, everything looked normal. The late-summer sky still shone brightly on us all. But whatever was normal had left us forever.

On the Internet, other people expressed themselves in myriad ways, ranging from syrupy sentiment to targeted rage. I saved some pictures from that time which illustrate this point:

The slim golden lining was my hope that this would purge inanity, bickering, and partisanship from America. The détente between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, was a sight to behold.

It didn’t last long.

Ten years later, we are more divided than ever before, more angry, more willing to express that anger. If America was adolescent before 9/11, we have now regressed back to kindergarten (“You stink!” “No, you stink!”). In too many areas of life, whining and blaming others brings not scorn but more attention.

Where did we go wrong?

Do three thousand more people – or more – have to die to bring the American people back to peace? I hate to say this, but I think not even that will be enough.

I want to write that America is a great place. Compared to too many other nations, it is. But the days after 9/11 showed me a glimpse of a better America, a kinder and more understanding America.

I hope we will get back to that place – without another tragedy.

Today, let’s be not just better Americans, but better people – and keep on being better tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.


  1. Beautiful post, Jennie...and it captured what was probably the most common experience of Americans at that time (certainly very similar to mine). My biggest regret too is that the feeling of unity was so short lived. Many times I think back on watching the members of Congress singing together, and marvel at how soon that solidarity turned to rancor. I don't know the cure for today's polemics. But you and I differ strongly on politics but still find common ground, mutual respect, and the ability to care for each it's not impossible, now is it? :-) Let's hope we see the day when things are better, and remember how 9/11/01, tragic as it was, showed us a glimmer of that day.

  2. Thanks, Diane. I think the key to getting along is respect for others' humanity even when you disagree on the specifics.