Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Remember

I woke up on September 11, 2001 and fixed myself a cup of tea before getting our school room ready for the day's lessons. Heavily pregnant with my sixth child, I sat on the couch for a few moments to enjoy the peaceful morning before waking up the boys.

I remember, as it seems the whole country did, how beautiful and clear the day had begun.

We lived in the Mojave Desert at the time, a few minutes drive from Edward's Air Force Base. The boys loved living next to it. Every day they would dive out the door at the sound of a sonic boom and try to identify the aircraft flying overhead. We even took a tour of the base some months previously and got to see the new Osprey hyprid up close as it was taking off on a test flight.

The skies of the desert were a constant hum of jets and airplanes, helicopters and huge carriers, until the noise blended with the every day sounds of life in the desert.

But that morning was strangely silent. And I didn't notice it until I received an early morning phone call from my neighbor across the street.
Her voice sounded shocked and frantic.
"Did you see the news?" she asked.
"I just got up," I responded. "I was getting ready for school...what's going on, Anna?"
I waddled over to the television, my heart suddenly pounding with anxiety.
Anna continued. "A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York!" she gasped. "There's a huge hole in the building, Julia! They don't know how the plane could have missed it by accident...some people are talking about an attack!"

I watched the screen while Anna kept talking. The two enormous towers of the World Trade Center were easily seen even though the shots were far away. I clicked from channel to channel and every single one had a camera focused on those buildings.
Suddenly I saw a close up of the tower that was hit.

It showed a huge, ragged slash, like the mouth of hell spewing black smoke with orange-red glowing from the interior. My breath caught.

"Anna," I began. "What..."
My thought was interrupted as the camera panned back unexpectedly and caught the streamlined shaped of another plane careening toward the second tower.

"Oh God!" I whispered.

In those three heartbeats before the plane hit, I knew.
I knew America would be changed today.
I knew we were under attack. I knew it was terrorism.

George W. Bush had only been President of the United States for ten months.
I had read an interview he did with a homeschool magazine the month after his inauguration.
It was a good interview and I read it with the strong feeling that we had elected a man who loved his country and had a great optimism about it.
But the last question the interviewer asked President Bush and his response, gave me a chill.
"What is the one thing that keeps you awake at night...the one thing you are most concerned about for America?"
"A terrorist attack on U.S. soil," President Bush answered.
His answer to that question right after he took office stayed with me. I couldn't forget it.

As incoming President, Bush was privy to all the intelligence information in preparation for his taking office. I remember how difficult the transitions was after the voting debacle in Florida. I remember how it prevented Bush from taking office, and the uneasy feeling that our country was rudderless during that time.

I also remembered how I felt during the Clinton years when terrorism began to occur with increaseing frequency. His milquetoast response to the terror attacks frustrated and angered me. I didn't want him to TALK about it. I didn't want to hear he would "go after those responsible" for the tenth time. I wanted him to DO something.

And after the U.S.S. Cole, when the country was begging Clinton to dispense with the crocodile tears and get on with "going after those responsible", he lobbed a missle at an aspirin factory and declared some kind of victory.
But in reality, the pot had bubbled over while he was busy with...other things.
And on that clear blue morning of September 11, America paid the price.

As I watched the skyline of New York fill with smoke, as Anna and I gasped into the phone, unable to speak; unable to hang up, all those things I remembered congealed in a lump in my throat.
Terrorists had finally struck on U.S. soil.

Anna and I both realized at the same time we needed to talk to our families.
We hung up and I dialed my sister's number.
She lived a few hours north in Santa Barbara and I wasn't sure if she knew what had happened until she answered the phone in the same shell-shocked voice I would hear from everyone else that day.

As my sister and I tried to absorb what was happening, the television flashed. We both stopped talking as the news camera panned across the Pentagon, showing another enormous smoking-black section of the building, the roof caved in; emergency vehicles flashing lights everywhere.
The report came in that another plane had possibly hit the Pentagon.
My sister I and both started talking at once.

"How many planes have been hijacked?!"
"Do you know anyone on the east coast?"
"Who's doing this to us?!"

The television flashed again, back to the World Trade Center.
The close-ups were unbearable. Smoke billowed around the tops of the towers, while the beautiful blue sky showed an incongruent background.
Then the cameras on the streets followed the people escaping from the towers.
It showed crowds standing, everyone's eyes fixed upwards on the burning tower. Many people had their hands clapped over their mouths in shock.
Disbelief was on every face.

My sister and I were silent while the cameras moved around the ground recording everything-every horrified voice, every frantic word of witness.
Suddenly the cameras panned back to show the two towers, and it seemed to me something even more terrible was about to happen.
From the couch where I was sitting three thousand miles away, I heard the rumble and roar of the North tower of the World Trade Center as it collapsed.
I saw the terror awaken on the faces of those on the ground and the cameras shaking as everyone began to run for their lives.

The tears finally came for my sister and I.
We both burst out weeping, crying as we saw the tons of steel crushing the lives we knew were still in that tower.
And as we cried "No, God, No!"
Then the South tower collapsed.

In the next few hours, the television images became a blur even as details emerged.
And out of the details, we learned names and places we would never forget:
Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda. Afghanistan. Muslim Terrorists.

And later I saw the numbers of the hijacked flights:
United Flight 93. American Flight 11. United Flight 175. American Flight 77.

And the name of one of the hijackers:
Mohammad Atta.

At the end of the that terrible day, after I had put the boys to bed, I went outside and listened.
All flights had been grounded.
The silence in the desert hurt my ears.
It seemed to throb with the ghost of flying aircraft.
Like an amputated limb I thought was still there.

I prayed...for everyone and everything.

When I went back inside, I turned on the television again...unable to bear the silence.
President Bush was addressing the nation.
And he broke that horrifying silence with words I remember still:

"Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts."

"These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation."

"Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America,"

"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

"America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.
None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world."

For the full text of this address:

I remember how I felt after I heard President Bush.
His message made me feel stronger, safer, prepared for the next thing.
He was a real leader.
He would put the full resources of this country into our protection.
In the plain words of a man who could discern good and evil, I knew he would take care of business.
And throughout it all, our President reminded us what a strong and capable people we are.
We are free. We are good. We are a beacon of light in this savage world.
We will not bow to our enemies. We will stand up to them.
We will now cower in the face of this attack. We will respond with "a quiet unyeilding anger" to the "evil, despicable acts of terror".

Yes. I remember.

How could half the country forget?


1 comment:

  1. Robynn, I can't imagine where your comment went!
    Crikey! But I'm a poor excuse for a blogger.

    You wrote:
    "Were we separated at birth? I wrote on the same topic almost the same day! Diane told me I should get to know you. I wish I'd listened to her sooner."

    My response:
    Yes, Turtle, we were separated at birth. The reason I'm sure of this is because I think it should be a crime to fast-forward through Galaxy Quest too. :)

    God Bless,