Sept. 11, 2001, was a day and lifetime of emotions.
Sitting in the newsroom of another local newspaper, we were only a few hours away from going to press for the week when word started circulating that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Then another plane.
We heard that yet another plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and there were some reports that our military might have shot down still another plane over a field in Pennsylvania. Clearly something was terribly wrong, and each report that came in offered more terrifying information, some of which was later to be determined to be incorrect, and some that was proven all-too factual.
It was dizzying, confusing, frightening and seemingly out of the kind of dream that makes you spring awake covered in a cold sweat, scrambling with the hope that you find yourself in a different reality than the one you were just in. But it was no dream. A few hours later, I was home, glued to the television and trying to find answers.
That fear? That confusion? That feeling of utter helplessness? They were all quickly leaving the station, replaced by a gurgling cauldron of white-hot rage. I could practically taste blood in the back of my throat and was praying for a cascade of red-white-and-blue revenge of Biblical proportions to rain down upon an entire corner of the world.
“Nuke the whole place until that desert turns into glass,” I remember telling a friend of mine that night in a phone conversation. “And then make sure some private is Windexing that glass 30 years from now.”
Fuming, I felt tears burn my eyes while I watched distraught human beings walk the streets of New York, pictures of loved ones clenched in their fists as they searched for any glimmer of hope they might find. Pride filled my trembling chest as I watched videos of first-responders rushing into buildings that would later fall down upon them, their lives extinguished in the most noble of efforts — risking it all for the safety of a stranger.
According to figures I found on various online sources, 2,997 people lost their lives during these outrageous and cowardly attacks, and more than 25,000 were injured. The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security estimated more than $10 billion of property damage, and my lust for revenge only grew throughout that sleepless night.
The culprits were al-Qaeda, and that seemed to be established fairly quickly after the events first took place. The radical Middle Eastern-based group used the guise of religious fanaticism as a means to recruit impressionable people to its cause, and used it again as a means to justify its wholly unjustifiable behavior.
As a veteran of an earlier war in the Middle East, I felt particularly enraged at this situation. I came back mentally and emotionally different from my experience. Two of my friends came home physically altered for life. One didn’t come home alive. Sept. 11, 2001, was the one moment in my life that I truly recall being completely overwhelmed with anger and fueled by unadulterated hatred.
I don’t say that with pride. There’s a lot of shame in those words.
After a foggy shower that next morning, Sept. 12, 2001, I zombie-walked to my car and started making my way in to work. Patriotic songs filled the radio airwaves during my commute, and marquees of businesses and churches carried messages of faith, hope and unity.
My core softened. I listened as people called in to the radio show with messages of love for those lost and fallen, and a stop at a convenience store led me to conversations with three or four people working or standing in line — conversations that did not center on the kind of hatred that had been threatening to swallow me whole, but on the need for all of us to come together and heal.
For our nation. For the people who make this nation special, and the humanity that we are so very capable of when called upon to display it.
We’re at the 19th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and a lot of those open wounds are still there. Those lost lives won’t be returned to us. The dreams of those who fell will not be realized and the survivors who got out with their lives will still hang on to their memories. Those brave men and women who signed their names on contracts to fight back against terror only to give their own lives will still be honored and memorialized and missed.
But we also still have Sept. 12, 2001. We still have a collective heart beneath our hate and division that beats together. Let’s find that beat again. Let’s be one again.