Every generation of Americans has their own “Where were you when ...” day.
You know, that one shared moment in time when the impact of a specific event tore through the collective soul of a nation and left an imprint that would not be erased by the simple elements of time. Oh, there are some happy and jubilant times that we have each enjoyed in our lives that we treasure as individuals, but those moments seem to be more important to some people than others, and don’t have the same group dynamic.
For instance, I’ll always remember my excitement in 1980 as I watched the U.S. Olympic hockey team win the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. I had chills as announcer Al Michaels exhorted, “Do you believe in miracles?” as the clock ran down on a shocking victory over the Soviets, and the high fives and screaming in my living room as my family shared the joy. However, there are a whole lot of people who really couldn’t care less about that game, so it’s not an experience that we all share in this country.
Those instances of fear, confusion and anger, however, reverberate through the veins and arteries of all of us. For one generation, it was the helplessness and rage when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. For another, it was that chilling autumn scene in Dallas as President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in front of a live crowd and equally live television cameras. For my generation and younger, it was that horrific day on Sept. 11, 2001 — when massive buildings tumbled to the earth, holes were slashed in the Pentagon and a group of heroic airline passengers willingly sacrificed their own lives to spare others.
Six years have passed since we all tried to catch our breath, dry our tears and make sense of that senseless day. Six years of trying to move on, but being prisoner to that dose of hurt that was injected into our brains and hearts that senseless day. Six years of watching the global repercussions of that senseless day, and wondering if each day since has been a bit senseless, as well.
In one way, it seems to be so much longer than that — like Sept. 11 happened in another life, one we’ve tried to hide in a storage unit and break off the key in the lock. But it also seems to have happened only a short while ago, and we can never escape the mental imagery of people running down the streets of New York, with horror and abject fear as encrusted on their face as the ash and dust from the falling buildings.
Will we always remember where we were that fateful morning? I’m guessing we will. I’ll never forget that I was working at another paper at the time, firmly enthralled in the deadline pressure that we were under when news first came out that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a goofy accident initially — either some small plane had a pilot error or there was an issue with air traffic control. A few moments later I learned that another plane had struck the towers, and reality splashed all over me that something else entirely was happening.
We all tried to stay on task but, as you can imagine, our attentions were being divided. Word started coming over the radio in the office that the Pentagon had been hit by a plane, that other planes in flight were unaccounted for, that a series of well-devised attacks were taking place everywhere. We finally got the paper out the door, and Susan Lyons and I left the office to go to a meeting that had been planned for days.
When we got to where we were going, we were surprised to find the doors locked. The person we were scheduled to meet with was inside, but Susan and I realized at that point how monumental this day truly was. When I got home and turned on the television, the images hit me smack in the face like a sledgehammer.
I stayed up until about 4:30 a.m. watching television that night — certain that things had changed forever in the world, but stubbornly certain that life as we knew it would return to normal eventually.
Well, it’s six years later, and the world is still different.
We’re still in war. Airline security is still heightened. Osama bin Laden is still on the run. And Muslims in this nation are still being mistreated all too often.
Yes, most things are back to normalcy these days for many of us. We’re back to watching sports, and hurting each other for no good reason and trying to figure out how to escape jury duty. People are back to talking during the national anthem at games, ignoring their family and streaking down Garfield Parkway at noon with nothing on but a smile and a hat made out of Twinkies, while I ...
But I digress.
Sept. 11 was more than the day that some extremist cowards aimed a few airplanes at some of our buildings. It was also a day that many of us lost our innocence, and most of us lost part of our hearts.
Certainly, we all remember where we were that fateful day. Now, do we know where we’re going?