September 11th. Five years later.
We'd like to thank Linda Freedman for another entry to HeroStories.org.
September 11, 2001 - Five Years Later"¦
Where were you when the first plane hit the World Trade Center?
On September 11, 2001, I was living in Hamden, Connecticut, my hometown. About 58,000 people call this place home, located about two hours from New York City.
My car radio was on that morning during my ten-minute ride to work along the tree-lined secondary roads. On September 11, 2001, some of the trees were just beginning to change from green to their vivid autumn colors. Pumpkins sat on few front steps in anticipation of Halloween with its imaginary ghosts and goblins. Soon we would all understand what real fear feels like.
During a morning show on the local rock radio station, the disc jockeys had CNN on in the studio without sound. They hoped to see something in CNN's broadcast to poke fun at with their trademark obnoxious comedy style. Suddenly, the laughter in the radio station stopped, followed by silence. In the background, I heard a woman say, "Oh, my God"¦Oh, my God"¦that plane just hit the Twin Towers."
No more laughter came through my car speakers that morning, only the confirmation that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I will never forget where I was at that moment. I was in my car at a stoplight on a picture-perfect, beautiful September morning in New England.
Arriving at the doctor's office where I worked, I ran in and announced what I had heard on the radio. The office manager ran over to the little black and white television that we kept in the office in case of emergencies and turned it on. It warmed up just in time for us to watch in horror and disbelief as the second plane hit the tower. Now it was obvious - this was not an accident. In an instant, America's carefree childhood had ended.
Connecticut is home to many people who work in New York. For many, the attack was going to mean hours and even days without news of missing loved ones. For some, the sweet sound of a loved one's voice would eventually be heard again. For far too many, there would only be silence.
I pulled myself away from the horror unfolding before me and phoned my husband and two grown daughters. Everyone in Connecticut knows people who work in New York or who have family and friends there. We began to pass on the information to as many people as we could. My family was among the lucky ones who did not lose anyone in the attack. But that was irrelevant. As a nation we would grieve for all of them, regardless of whether they were family members, friends, co-workers or strangers.
For weeks after the attack, I watched the sky as I drove to and from work. What was I hoping to see? I think I was acting as a sentry for my country. No more attack planes were going to invade my beautiful New England sky without my knowledge. Yet the sky looked the same as it always did - bright blue on some days, cloudy on others.
During the days and weeks immediately after September 11th, many people fell prey to a variety of "should haves". We should have seen it coming. We should have been prepared.
I should have said, "I love you" more often"¦
Fives years later, I feel like a homesick child. I long to return to my old world, my old life. They say ignorance is bliss. I long to be ignorant again. I want to rewind the clock. I want to find a Time Machine and be transported back to the America I knew before September 11, 2001.
But we cannot go back, we must forge ahead. Together we made the journey through our grief as best we could. Not only family and friends but also the global community comforted us. As a nation we were not alone in our grief and that touched us deeply. With their support, we turned our "need to do something" into positive action. Rock stars, actors and large corporations joined forces and benefit concerts were on the air in a matter of days. People came together to help in any way they could. We found that it helped us heal a little bit when we did something for someone else.
On this five year anniversary there will be specials and movies and even a re-broadcast of the September 11th events. I don't need any of these things to remind me of how my world changed on that day. The sound of a plane flying overhead never used to trigger a feeling of panic in me. I don't live very far from Sikorsky Aircraft. Before September 11th, military aircraft only occasionally flew over this area during test flights. Immediately after the attack, they flew over constantly, checking power lines and other possible targets like Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. Their sound is unmistakable and each time one flies over I wonder if we are under attack again. Five years have passed and I still have to tell myself that I'm being foolish, but still I listen and wait"¦. for what?
The grief of that day can pierce an otherwise happy event without warning. Recently, I ordered an older Richard Simmons exercise DVD which was set to disco music. In his true comic style of combining exercise and fun, the opening scene of DVD parodied Saturday Night Fever. I laughed as Richard Simmons strutted down the sidewalk in his sequined shorts and tank top. Then the shot widened to show the New York skyline and there they were - the Twin Towers - meant to be (as they always had been) a New York landmark. I never paid much attention to them before. They were always there, standing tall, strong and permanent. I have not watched that DVD again.
Last week I was sorting out a box of family photos. My husband's friend is a pilot and sometimes my husband flies with him and takes photos from the window of his friend's Cessna. One group of these held a photo of the Statue of Liberty and one of The Twin Towers. In another box, I found a journal I was writing in immediately after the tragedy. After writing about the actual event, I recorded the panic surrounding other accidents involving small planes and even a truck which caught fire and burned out a bridge. In the past, we would have reacted to these as "ordinary" tragedies. Now we were immersed in fear. With each one, we held our breath and waited for proof that these were incidences of "ordinary" death and destruction, and not the terrorist kind. There's an old saying, "If you hear hoof beats in the night, think first of horses, not zebras". After 9-11, we were seeing zebras everywhere. Five years later, we are learning to control our panic as we sharpen our senses.
The Towers were more than cold buildings that contained various businesses and restaurants. They seemed to take on lives of their own because of all the life energy inside them every day. They held the promise of tomorrow for young families. They held the hope of a brighter future for immigrants hoping to grab a piece of "The American Dream".
The World Trade Center Memorial will be called "Reflecting Absence". Most people feel that no buildings should be built on Ground Zero. Perhaps, to many who spent time within them, the World Trade Center towers had something similar to a soul. And just as loved ones we have lost may be memorialized but cannot be brought back to life, "Reflecting Absence" might be the most fitting tribute, not only to those who lost their lives in them but to the World Trade Center buildings themselves.