Every generation has a moment in time of a shared memory. For us, it is September 11, 2001.
We cannot help but stop for a while and think about it. And we should not fight it. Perhaps we do not think about it enough. A moment of silence does not seem to be enough.
That day some 3,000 people went to work on a crisp and beautiful pre-fall day not knowing they would die from terrorism. It was the day after Labor Day and for many, the first day of school. My neighbor Knell and I were stay-at-home mothers. I had just gotten over three months of morning sickness. I was pregnant with my daughter Kristen. Marianna was a toddler. Knell and I were planning to go for a walk.
John, who was my husband at the time, was a newsroom editor. He called to tell me one of the Twin Towers was ablaze. A plane had sliced into one of the towers. I was bewildered, remembering that planes were not allowed to fly over Manhattan. In the few minutes that it took me to go next door with stroller and toddler in hand, I was in Knell’s family room watching a second tower ablaze. “This is not an accident,” I said. “This is terrorism.”
Knell wondered if we should go on our walk. I said we should because we were in Arlington, Virginia, quite far from the burning towers of New York. As we naively pushed our strollers, neighbors in cars stopped to ask us if we knew what happened. We thought we did, but learned that as we were walking, a plan had struck The Pentagon less than two miles away. We couldn’t reach our husbands on her cell phone. We quickly pushed our strollers home as neighbors we didn’t know opened windows and asked us if we knew what was happening. We just knew we had to get home.
Knell and I talked about it today, eerily remembering how the weather then was just as today — the cool weather and clear blue sky. It was simply too beautiful not to take a walk.
As if the events in New York’s financial district and the Pentagon were not enough, the news media reported endless rumors. Even the Washington Monument was hit, one rumor said. We sat at home with the non-stop television reports, helpless. Chicken Little’s apocalyptic sky was falling, getting out of the district was nearly impossible and we wondered if or when we our loved ones again.
The fact is, most of the people who died on 9-11 were in the course of employment,
qualifying their families for workers’ comp.
But liability and life insurance costs made workers’ comp an insurance footnote.
Schools closed. The numbers of the estimated dead were up to at least 15,000 people. Thankfully, those estimates were wrong, but the real number was bad enough.
Marianna had always noticed the airplanes going over our home, as we lived under the flight path of Reagan National Airport. The weeks of silence, the anticipation of something else happened loomed over all of us. It was hard to sleep. It was hard not to worry about what the future held.
Life in Washington, D.C. would never be the same. I wondered what kind of world my baby would be born into. Our nation’s innocence was lost. Terrorism was no longer a reality in faraway places. Preventing it would become the new normal. We continue living our normal lives not knowing how much we have been protected from another incident, but also knowing it is likely to happen again.
I cannot help but think that the World War II generation would have not taken the “move on” approach to such a horrific day. I suspect they would have made this a Federal holiday. But instead we honor the dead by trying to live normal lives to mark a day that could not be less normal.
A freelance journalist at the time, I tried to sell the New York Times a story about the workers’ compensation implications. The fact is, most of the people who died on 9-11 were in the course of employment, qualifying their families for workers’ comp. But liability and life insurance costs made workers’ comp an insurance footnote. It’s hard to get the media to care about workers’ compensation.
Thousands of workers still live with the ramifications of cleaning up 9-11. Families continue to suffer from the loss of loved ones. No sense can be made from such intense evil.
We did try to return to normalcy after that day, but no camera could adequately capture the evilness of the dark black charred hole in the Pentagon. That view is forever etched in my memory. Even now, when I drive by it, I cannot help but notice newer stone that restored the building’s polygonal shape.
My world is very different now. I have moved farther away into the suburbs and will soon be married to Alan, who was serving our country in the Navy that day. My girls asked me so many questions on the way to school today. I painted a picture of what happened, but stopped short of answering the reasons beyond 9-11. How can you describe how sick and mislead people carefully calculated mass murder in the name their God?
I grew up during the cold war and fear of the Soviet Union dropping nuclear bombs. We know now they were as afraid of us as we were them and that shared fear protected us all. Superpowers are easier to keep at bay than individual terrorist groups underwritten by our dependence on foreign oil. But we didn’t know what we know now and our heroin-like dependence on foreign oil is a tough to addiction to break. Environmentally friendly technology moves at a snail’s pace while there’s no limit to making smart phones smarter.
We do not do enough to memorialize 9-11. We are simply too busy to stop for ritual as past generations did. And ultimately, the busyness that distracts us from 9-11 might be our ultimate curse.
This blog has surpassed its ideal length, but I don’t care. This is part of my way of remembering that awful day that changed us all forever.