One Decade


Remembrance feels like the right thing to do today.

I can remember the biggest news in DC 10 years ago yesterday.  Michael Jordan had scheduled a press conference the following day that was widely assumed to be his second un-retirement, this time with the intent of playing for the Washington Wizards.  It’s such an odd thing to remember, but it was that last bit of the new cycle that included Jordan, shark attacks, and Chandra Levy.  I suppose it says something that all those stories feel much older than a decade, like something fifteen or twenty years old.

In my own life the news was me finally landing a job after graduating with a Computer Science degree into the bottoming out of the tech market.  My job was to start on the 17th, and include regular trips to the Pentagon.

September 11th I slept in.  That wonderful sleep you get when you’ve landed a job but it hasn’t started yet, so there’s nothing to get up early for.  No need to hit the help wanted websites, ship out resumes, or go to work yet.  I went online to talk to a friend, who mentioned how she was glad that a friend of hers had stopped working at the World Trade Center a month earlier.  Why?  Hadn’t I heard?  A plane hit the building.

It feels like a cliche to say I assumed she meant a Cesna.  Isn’t that what everyone says, everyone who only heard the news, wasn’t watching CNN or any other news channel when it hit.  Five years ago CNN showed their feed from 9/11 online in real time.  Just before the planes struck, they were talking about new maternity fashions.  That was the last news story before the news story that changed CNN, that reinvented 24-hour news, that created ticker bars.

I went downstairs and turned on the television, curious what was going on.  Within seconds the second tower was hit.

I experienced what could only be described as shock.  I didn’t cry, I wasn’t angry, it all just compartmentalized itself and my brain coped by shutting it all away and not thinking about it.  The only moment of clarity I can recall was thinking “it’s gone, it’s gone” when the first tower fell but the person on television was having a hard time figuring out what the new billowing smoke around the building meant.  Couldn’t he see it?  Didn’t he see it crumble.

I was watching the local CBS station here in the DC area.  They broke into the coverage of the World Trade Center with breaking news.  Something that was somehow more important than the Towers coming down.  It was the Pentagon.  Smoke billowed out of it.  That’s when my mom called.  I still lived at home at the time, both my parents worked.  My mom at a school, my dad in a job that took him to the Pentagon occasionally.  She was frantic, she didn’t have his work phone number, could I read it off the chalk board by the phone.  We were able to quickly contact him, all was well, but it was a moment of sheer panic.

The rest of the day I served as point of contact, letting relatives know we were alright.  I broke the news to my grandmother when I called her with the news that we were okay.  She hadn’t heard, didn’t really want to hear.

I remember one oddly morbid moment.  I walked outside, expecting there to be some indication that the world had gone mad, that there was something different about this day.  But there wasn’t.  It was a beautiful day.  Not a cloud in the sky, lightly crisp air, you couldn’t want a better early fall day.

I have a horrible memory for dates and times and events.  But that day I can walk through beat-for-beat as it happened.  Even the odd little bits that stick in from the day before.  I remember everyone coming home, and trying to be as normal as possible.  We had dinner.  We watched the news, because there was nothing else to watch for the next few weeks.  We went to bed.  And we woke up to what’s called now the “Post 9/11 World.”

We’ve lived in that world now for a decade, and that’s such an odd period of time.  It’s enough time for children to have been born and grown up enough that they need to have this thing explained to them, a thing that is part of all our collective experiences, but occurred before they existed.  Every year Beloit College puts out their “mindset” list, meant to explain to professors the world that their new students grew up in.  In another five years children who were 3 on 9/11, too young to understand what happened, will get to college, and I just wonder what the Beloit list will say that year.

More than anything else, that’s how I think of this anniversary, just the fact that we’ve managed to go on, that ten years have passed, and how much those ten years were like the ten previous.  Security has changed, technology has changed, politics have changed, but people are people.  We carry on and we live lives, much as we have after every disaster.  We didn’t give up, as a species, after the Black Death, after World Wars, or after 9/11.  Is it wrong to bring up Doctor Who in this context, because I love his constant wonderment for the resiliency of the human species whenever he gets to a future where they should have given up, but haven’t.  I love that because it is us, it’s who we are.

It’s so easy to close the book after ten years, it’s a nice round number, but there’s really nothing that makes today much different than yesterday or tomorrow.  Not like what made that horrible day a decade ago different that days of shark attacks, Michael Jordan, and maternity fashion.

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