Twenty Years

A reflection on September 11th

It was a beautiful. Beautiful weather. A bright blue and cloudless sky. It was a one of the most beautiful days you’ll ever see.

Until 8:46 AM.

It’s almost mind-blogging to think that it has been twenty years.

In 2001, thousands of people went to work. Hundreds of people hopped on an airplane, going to Los Angeles or to San Francisco.

They never made it home.

There were 2,977 direct fatalities and 25,000+ direct injuries in these ghastly attacks. But that doesn’t take into account the full casualty total from that day. There are obvious victims associated with that day, such as those members of the military perished or injured during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are the, somewhat invisible victims as well. Survivors committed suicides. Marriages broken up. Emotional and mental breakdowns by those whose relatives have perished.

We may never know the true human toll of these attacks.

As a nation and as individuals, I’m not sure we have completely emotionally processed that day. I count myself among them.

On that day, I was working in Rosslyn in one of the towers there. Like most of the country, we had the television on to the events in New York. In here office, one of my coworkers screamed “OH MY GOD”.

She saw something that resembled this.

9/11 Inside the Pentagon | PBS

We left. We didn’t wait around to figure out what was next.

I drove home at an incredibly high rate of speed. I had the radio on DC 101 (for some reason, I had not changed the channel. Perhaps because it was because I was listening to a live Ben Folds appearance on there when the first reports came in. I still associated Ben Folds with 9/11). Perhaps because it was familiar voices had transitioned seamlessly into doing hard news in a very professional manner.

People who aren’t old enough or were not paying enough attention may not truly understand the chaos of that day. The chaos at the Pentagon and World Trade Center attack sites as well as the Shanksville crash site was obvious. Less obvious was the confusion of what was going on and what might be next. Rumors being reported live on air that morning included a bomb that had allegedly exploded at the State Department and mysterious “fifth plane” inbound up the Potomac River toward the Capitol Building. President George W. Bush was crisscrossing the country to secure military bases to ensure that continuity of government. That says nothing about other suspected planes, the evacuation of buildings across the country, and other false alarms that turned out to be just that, false alarms.

When I got home, I, like everybody else, watched TV until late that night.

As far as this goes, I am no hero of 9/11. I am no victim of 9/11. I did nothing of value for anybody but myself or my family that day. But at the same time, the day was emotional, in ways that I probably still haven’t recognized. The body remembers trauma, after all. My trauma was nothing like those of the victims, those of the families of the dead, the First Responders, those who participated in the decision-making that day, those who evacuated the towers, those who participated in the largest maritime evacuation in history, or others who had a more direct involvement. But it’s there.

Our nation experienced trauma too. It’s a trauma that continues to show itself to this very day.

On September 11th and the immediate aftermath, we saw our country as a whole and the world at-large come together.

People helped people, regardless of their political, religious or socioeconomic affiliation. The people of Canada took in tens of thousands of people who could not land in the United States due to the closed airspace. A coalition came together to destroy the Taliban. Even members of Congress, from both parties, came together and sang God Bless America.

Four days later, we saw President Bush standing atop the rubble, bringing all people together in a unifying moment that we would make the perpetrators suffer.

It still gives me chills. There were other chilling, unifying moments as well. Like Mike Piazza’s home run in the first Mets game back in Shea Stadium.

Or President’s Bush’s first pitch.

And yet, things deteriorated quickly.

The anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 created a new sense of panic and terror.

The creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the eventual passage of the PATRIOT Act (a long-standing wish list of surveillance methods that would not have passed on September 10th) deteriorated not just co-operation between the parties, but also trust between the government and its citizenry.

The proliferation of September 11th Conspiracy Theories, particularly over the internet, was the first in a long line of conspiracy theories that ultimately led directly to QAnon and the bogus conspiracy theories related to the 2020 Presidential Election.

The War on Terror and the anti-war movement it created led to the rise of the radical left as an instrument of the Democratic Party.

The creation of the Transportation Security Administration has made flying more annoying and probably not any safer.

The REAL ID Act, which was passed in May 2005, still has not been fully implemented and won’t be until May 2023. Despite being one of the few useful pieces of legislation that would have potentially stopped the 9/11 Attacks, it will take 18 years and a full 22 years after the attacks for the law to be fully-implemented.

Islamophobia took off in the U.S. after the attacks, some blaming the entirety of the religion as the cause of the attacks instead of the radical terrorists that perpetrated it. Islamophobia merged with conspiracy theories to form the Birther Movement. The Birther movement led to the political prominence of Donald Trump, his election, and the post-election conspiracies of the post-Trump era.

The difference between the post 9/11 world and the COVID Era is stark. At the time, everybody was pulling the same direction, with common cause, and generally with respect for their neighbors and compatriots. Today, with the political climate ultimately created by 9/11, many can barely agree to do anything for their neighbors. Everything turns into a fight. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on; but too many people can’t even provide enough for others to not default toward hateful speech and violence.

Life is more complicated now.

A lot of people have come of age since September 11th. Those who may not have been old enough to fully understand what was going on that day may not fully appreciate how that day was and its aftermath. The chaos. The confusion. The terror. The sadness. The mourning. The unity. Those of us who remember need to honor the memory of those who died, those who lived, those who helped, and those who led. We need to convey these lessons, these feelings, to our kids and grandkids.

One of the feelings is related to where we are today, September 11th, 2021. Until earlier today, the newly restored Taliban “government” in Afghanistan had scheduled their inauguration festivities today. A sick reminder that, twenty years after 9/11, we have returned to a pre 9/11 environment in Afghanistan. The people that remain our enemies, who aided and abetted the group that murdered 2,977 innocent souls, has been restored to their unrightful place ahead a government of an ancient nation. They did not did so through right, or through military victim. But they did so through a surrender agreed to be Donald Trump and executed (poorly) by Joe Biden. Twenty years later, our enemies are right back where they started, but this time aided and abetted by two different Presidents of the United States.

It’s a sad, pathetic coda to the chapter of the last twenty years. That much of what we have done, much of what we have fought for, what so many people died for.

But those of us who lived it, no matter how much and how small, should reflect on that day. What it meant to live it. What it meant to live through it. What it meant to us as individuals, our family, and our country. I’m guessing a lot of people have not taken that time over the last twenty years; I’d probably count myself in that group.

May the Lord watch over the victims, the survivors, our First Responders, and our Nation. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Pray for Us. And may God Bless these United States.