Tuesday morning started out like any other normal day — one of American innocence for most who are of this generation. I arrived at work and still everything was normal. This particular workday would only be normal for about five minutes. I got a telephone call from my mother: A plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. How could that be? Was it an accident?
I ran to the newsroom where already about a dozen people were watching in horror as television news replays showed the unthinkable — a jetliner crashing into the second of the twin towers, a huge fireball exploding from the sides of the building. It had happened just minutes before.
My thoughts were like those of millions — disbelief and shock. It was surreal, like something we see in the movies — special effects. But this was real, and it was horrifying. Gaping holes were in the sides of both towers. Smoke poured out of the buildings.
I went back to my desk to think about what to do next. My job demands that I put a story on our Web site. But that's not what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking, how many people were on those floors? How many people will perish in the fires? How many will be able to escape?
Suddenly another news report came in on the radio: A jet had crashed into the Pentagon. It's happening all at once, I thought. It's a coordinated assault. The world is spinning out of control. Who is doing this to us? What's next? What do they want? What else is to come? Feelings of apocalypse crept up my spine.
I returned to the newsroom where we continued to watch the World Trade towers burn. Within an hour, the even more unthinkable happened: One tower collapsed before our eyes, on live television. We gasped again as the second tower fell soon after. The moments those towers fell were the most terrifying and shocking moments I can remember — images forever burned into my mind, into all of our minds. I felt sick, horrified, disgusted, chilled. One minute they were standing, and the next minute they were gone, collapsed into untold tons of debris and massive clouds of dust and smoke. Thousands were surely still inside, now buried and dead.
And yet, between moments of watching the horror, I was putting pictures on the Web of the two towers smoking and news stories about the madness. Big stories produce that adrenaline rush for those in the journalism industry, and here it was, no doubt about it, but mixed in with feelings of dread and sadness, fear and outrage. Thousands of people were dying, and here I was running around trying to get the latest wire copy and images posted as news. In a way, it was cold and unreal.
And on the day went, reality slowly sinking in. With flights grounded, I realized how strange it was to look up on a totally clear September day and see no jet exhaust trails anywhere. Seems pretty stupid in the scheme of things, but here was the closest physical evidence of the day's tragic events that I could witness firsthand with my own eyes.
And now here's another documented experience from another random individual. A story like millions of others, told the only way I know how — from my own perspective. Who even cares what I have to say, anyway?
I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm nearly 800 miles away from the carnage. Most everyone I know and love is also 800 miles away from it. In the three days since the tragedy I've contacted the one friend I have who lives in New York City and works in Manhattan. She's okay. She works in midtown and can even go back to work.
But the despair reaches far beyond the physical locations of 10 square blocks in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, or in a rural field in Pennsylvania. This affects all of us. Thousands of innocent people are dead, from all around the world, killed in an instant by senseless, barbaric terrorism. Now we must decide what to do next. There will be hell to pay, and one never knows what tomorrow will bring. It makes one fear for the future.
As American citizens, most of us, particularly the younger people, have been living in innocent times. We never thought something this awful would happen on our doorstep. Now it has. We wonder if it can again — if it will again. The consequences begin to sink in. We stop and reflect that life is precious. That the world can be a terrifying place. Many of us are so spoiled, so lucky, and so blind to real horrors. And on Tuesday, we saw just what can happen. It can happen to us.
September 11, 2001, was a terrible, terrible day. The death and destruction is unimaginable. The attack was very much an act of war. The victims are countless. The sad stories are heartbreaking. I cannot fathom the anguish of those whose loved ones still lie buried under the rubble — whose bodies may never be found, whose families will never be the same.
As a nation, we will recover. We will come together. We will rebuild. We will overcome. We will not let terrorists control how we live. But we will never quite be the same. A great many of us have lost our innocence, and we will always remember that day.