Heralding the anniversary of the most horrific attack on American soil, the question “Where were you on September 11?” has been making the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites, with answers as varied and diverse as the American populace itself. Just thinking back to that event, which little did we know at that time would affect so much change on every level, can feel strange. It seems unreal that it’s already been nine long years since I was driving to my old job as a bank recruiter in Boca Raton, Florida, cruising down scenic A1A for what I’d expected to be another typical day at the office. We had a group of applicants coming in for the mandatory employment assessment, and with my recruiting assistant off for the morning I’d be handling what would normally have been her responsibility.
During that beautiful drive, for whatever reason, I’d opted to listen to a regular pop-music FM station in lieu of my typical motivational CD, in a break from my usual routine. The morning show featuring two fun-loving guys and a girl was proceeding along in typical irreverent fashion when the news came in that the World Trade Center in New York had been struck by an airplane. Absent more elaborate detail, the radio hosts surmised it must’ve been a private plane – possibly piloted by a novice – since the picture-perfect weather would seem to preclude any other possibility. After all, a seasoned commercial or private pilot would surely know enough to avoid crashing into an office tower if his aircraft was failing. That was the thought I held in mind as I entered through the double-glass doors of my building and greeted the folks who’d already assembled in the lobby.
But just as I’d set up the applicants in the conference room, the surreal events of the day began to play out in a frenzy of panic and helplessness. First, the administrative assistant who worked upstairs hysterically rushed into my office to announce we were under attack by terrorists, who’d somehow managed to take control of a large, commercial jet and turn it into a weapon of bloody destruction. Without the benefit of a television, I was struggling to wrap my brain around that horrific scenario when a financial center employee bounded through the office doors to inform us that another plane had hit the second tower. Then a little while later, news of the attack on the Pentagon and the spine-tingling story of United 93. And finally, the shocking news that all flights had been grounded, the final confirmation (as if we’d needed any at that point) that life had been forever altered.
Perhaps the most surreal moment occurred when that same financial center employee returned from his trip to the upstairs lunchroom (home to the only television in the building), and breathlessly announced that the World Trade Center was now “a pile of rubble”. I remember feeling incredulous, as if how dare he make such an exaggeration! Wasn’t the news already horrific enough?
Of course, nine years and several attacks (e.g. London subway bombings, Madrid bombings) and attempted attacks later (e.g. the foiled plots to blow up airliners over the Atlantic from Heathrow Airport, and to destroy the Library Tower in Los Angeles) – combined with a newfound knowledge of Islam, thanks to scholars like Robert Spencer and authors like Brigitte Gabriel – none of the sheer barbarism of 9/11 will ever again evoke that initial, naïve feeling of surprise and denial. Like many other Americans, I’ve come to recognize and expect nothing but guttural savagery and brutality from a totalitarian political ideology that wraps itself up in the cloak of religion. Its adherents are people like the Palestinians who danced gleefully in the streets, quite proud of the death and destruction their fellow death-cultists wrought upon innocent civilians in the name of Allah – all to further their purpose of destroying the “Great Satan” America.
They’re the same militants who oppress women and infidels, committing unspeakable atrocities like genital mutilation, stoning, honor killing, beheadings and pedophilia – and who go on worldwide killing sprees over cartoon Mohammads, brandishing signs that say, “Behead those who insult Islam.”
In stark contrast, the heroes of September 11 – from firefighters and police to everyday citizens and local officials – stand as an eternal testament to the resiliency and nobility of the human spirit in a free society, even under the direst of circumstances, even when put through the most horrific of tribulations. As story after story of heroism unfolded, anger and sadness mixed with an undeniable pride in my fellow countrymen. Under the worst of circumstances, the best of humankind emerged.
Perhaps the most stunning testament to the sheer magnitude of the day’s terror, and the unfathomable conditions inside the World Trade Center towers comes from those who deliberately jumped. Who among us can even imagine how hellish it must’ve been, when plunging 90-plus stories to a violent end is the preferable option? The haunting images of these souls hanging out of the windows and ultimately free-falling – some alone, others holding hands, will forever remain in my memory.
That day, Americans witnessed a gut-wrenching juxtaposition of the very best and the very worst of human nature. We realized that we share the planet with an alarming number of people who value death in the same way we value life. In the wake of September 11, we experienced a rebirth of patriotism and brotherhood as citizens from coast to coast gave money, donated blood, offered up prayer and swore they’d “Never Forget”. American flags sprouted up everywhere, decorating cars, offices and homes.
Sadly, for reasons best left to another post, this phenomenon was all too fleeting. But on this ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001, I pray for our nation to find the courage to boldly confront the enemies of freedom and to valiantly fight for the way of life bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers. It’s the least we can do to honor the sacrifices made by our fellow Americans on a day that will forever live on in infamy.