On this somber anniversary weekend I have decided to post an excerpt of a letter I wrote on September 20, 2001 to a friend in Sweden. She had asked my perspective of the events on 9/11. I post this with some trepidation because I don’t want anyone to suppose I am trying to make myself equal with those who lost so much on that day. This is only meant to be my perspective and is not meant to be a factual retelling. It also shows the attitude of patriotism that permeated after that day.
Tuesday morning I was late to work (as usual) and was trying to wake my faculties enough to make it to lunch (at which time I could take a nap to get me through the rest of the day). But somewhere that very usual and typical morning took a turn and my day, week, month, and yes, even my life was touched and moved – without my life being personally touched.
I work in the mailroom for a forty-floor office building in Salt Lake City. Tuesdays I have three responsibilities that take me the whole day to complete. I was still working on my first task which means I had only been at work for about an hour when a coworker walked into the sorting area and announced, “A plane just hit a tower in New York City.”
“Which tower?” someone asked.
“The airport tower,” she guessed.
Oh, that’s too bad. Hopefully no one was injured.
Another coworker turned on the radio, which subsequently was on all day. The news reporter’s voice was filled with anxiety. The plane didn’t hit the airport tower, it hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The mood in room stiffened. Was it an accident? Surely it was. Was it a terrorist action? No way, not in New York City. As we listened to the radio, we heard the reporter’s voice quicken as he announced the second tower had been hit by a plane. Doubt slipped out of the room. America was under attack. We were 2,000 miles away and everyone in the room felt it as certain as if someone had punched each one of us in the stomach.
Panic spread through my tiny work area as we longed for answers. But the only source of information, the radio, was short on answers or comfort.
Another report came in. A plane slammed into the Pentagon. The Pentagon? Our Pentagon in Washington D.C. where the leader of the free world resides? That Pentagon? Yes. How safe are we? Have we just been thrown into World War Three?
The damage reports of the towers began to be announced. Over 50,000 people in the towers were expected to have been inside not to mention approximately 500 in the section of the Pentagon hit. Plus, all the passengers on the airplanes were added to the list. Estimations of the fatalities started in the thousands.
The reporter announced another plane crash in Pennsylvania. Was it part of this? Oh, please don’t let it be part of this. Our sky is falling! First reports were sketchy. No one could confirm if the last crash was a part of the series of hijackings, or if it just crashed. Or, was it shot down by us because it didn’t follow the newly imposed “No fly” law?
Work became secondary as we listened to the radio. Any work that was accomplished that day was out of sheer force. At any given time there was at least one person sitting next to the radio. I listened hoping to hear it was all a big mistake. No such announcement came.
What happened next? The unthinkable. The towers, first one then the other, came down. Two 110 story buildings on Manhattan Island, within an hour of each other tumbled to the ground. Was there a bomb planted inside each of them to make them collapse? No, we later found out. The steel frames became so hot from the explosions they actually melted. Each successive floor could not bear the weight collapsing on it so the buildings crumbled.
The number feared dead quickly escalated. And continued to rise. Haunting images of people jumping out of windows to escape is the only indicator we have of the hell people were in. The only thing we can do is bow our heads in silence for all those who became entombed when the buildings fell.
To show reverence for the lives lost that day the office building I work at closed early. Most businesses did. No one could work that day. I called my mom on the way home just to hear her voice and know she was okay. More than anything, I wanted to drive the 187 miles to get home to Wyoming and be with family. But I couldn’t.
Up until that point, my only source of information had been the radio. No images. I stopped at a newsstand and picked up a paper. It was my first glimpse of the events I had heard about all morning. I went home and turned on the television and flipped through the channels and watched every channel play the same video over and over again. But I didn’t mind. Later I would be tired of seeing all the graphic images but at that moment, I needed to see them. It confirmed it was real. It was no joke. And the future just became uncertain.
There are many things the terrorists did. They took away lives. They devastated lives. They took away our security. They took away our naiveté. But they could not, and cannot – unless we let them – take away our spirit. We have a choice to become stronger because of this. In some ways, we already have. The momma bear has awoken and wants vengeance for her cubs. We have been reminded that we are, after all, the United States of America.