Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Will Never Forget...

Today is a day I wish I could forget, but it is one we need to remember.

Like so many pivotal moments in history—the Challenger disaster; the assassination of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King; the assassination attempt on President Reagan—people can easily recall where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001 when they first heard about or saw first-hand what was happening.

I was at work just like any other day, when my then-housemate called to tell me a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. I thought that seemed strange; how could a plane not avoid one of those buildings? Shortly thereafter, our office building in Alexandria, VA (not too far from the Pentagon) rattled; again, it seemed a bit strange, but nothing else happened so we thought a large truck might have driven by. My mother called a few seconds later asking if I was ok, because she said that a bomb had gone off at the Pentagon and it was on fire. I remember being very nonchalant about it, telling her that I didn't think a bomb had gone off and that everything was just being blown out of proportion. But then I pulled up the internet and saw just how wrong I was: by that point, planes had hit both towers and the Pentagon. And the day moved in a direction I couldn't ever imagine it heading into.

I closed the office and sent my colleagues home for the day (many were in Baltimore at a conference). At that point friends started realizing we couldn't reach Brady or Angela, two of our friends who worked at the Pentagon. The first tower fell as I was driving home; the second tower fell shortly after I arrived home. I panicked as I couldn't reach either my brother or my sister, both of whom worked in NYC, and was happy once I heard from my parents that they were both fine.

But no one could find out anything about Brady and Angela. Watching the footage of the Pentagon on television, we saw the plane crashed near where we thought they worked. (Both had to be fairly secretive about what they did, so most of our information was vague.) Once we knew the fire had been put out, several of us got as close to the Pentagon as we could, standing on a hill on the opposite side of the highway with so many others—onlookers, as well as concerned friends and family of those who worked in the building. After about a 90-minute vigil, we learned that both Brady and Angela were presumed to have been killed in the attack, although that wasn't confirmed until later that day.

In the days following 9/11, I remember vacillating between shock, numbness and anger. Here in the Washington area, the typical dog-eat-dog mentality that pervades everyday life seemed to be put on hold, at least for a few weeks. Having grown up in the New Jersey area, I was surprised that only one person I graduated from high school with, Steve Russin, was killed in the World Trade Center attack, although the spouses of several other people I knew growing up also were killed. And while people seemed to come together for a while, there were already glimmers of "patriotism" being used as an excuse for everything—a popular radio host, Jack Diamond (whom I've not listened to since then), explained away a random attack on a Muslim man who was dragged out of his car for no apparent reason by saying "well, that kind of anger can be expected."

I cannot believe it has been nine years since that day. It seems like yesterday and like a lifetime ago. My heart and my prayers, as always, go out to those who lost family, friends or colleagues. I still miss Brady and Angela, two people with whom I didn't have the luxury of long friendships, but did share some fantastically fun moments.

The best thing we can do is never forget.

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