I remember that vividly. I remember feeling like September had arrived, and fall wasn’t far off.
I was sleeping in, the way a 29-year-old can and a 48-year-old wishes were still possible. My significant was up early, drinking her coffee and watching the morning shows, when she woke me with the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and I’d better come in to see.
I mumbled something about it happening before — in 1945 a B-25 Mitchell bomber had flown into the Empire State Building in a fog — but she assured me this was no small deal.
I stumbled out to the living room to see the North Tower smoking. As I watched, the image of a plane hitting the building was on screen — it took a moment to realize what I saw was not a replay, but a second plane striking the South Tower.
We all have our coping mechanisms for moments like those. For the first responders, it’s the call to action. For those at Ground Zero, perhaps it was shock, perhaps it was to flee. For me, and I think many in our industry, it was to shut off emotion and get to the job at hand — the story must be told, the news must happen — there will be plenty of time to process it later.
That day, for me, it was 12 hours of monitoring the wire services for stories and building news pages.
I remember our Sunday editor, who sat near the television, alerting us to the collapse of the South Tower.
In passing, I remembered my friends and I viewing the city from the roof of the WTC in 1990.
I remember images like “The Falling Man” coming over the wire. As a plane hit the Pentagon, and another crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa., I made a few phone calls to people I knew in DC for reactions.
I mainly remember keeping busy. Detached. Needing to be doing something, no matter how small. I wasn’t thinking how the world had changed that morning, that would come later, when I wrote a column I titled, "Yesterday, we saw evil."
Even now, polarized as we are, it is a conceit to think we live in the worst of times. On Sept. 10, 2001, for example, things weren't all that different. We weren’t far removed from a presidential election that had to be decided, for all intents and purposes, by the Supreme Court. If not for the fact that Al Gore had conceded, we may have had a Constitutional crisis on our hands.
By the end of the day, Sept. 11, we were one. We didn’t know what the response would be, we only knew that we, America, had been attacked. We prayed. We donated. We volunteered. In the face of evil, Americans came to the aid of Americans.
That unity couldn’t last forever, it never does, and over time, moments like that fade from the collective memory. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed far more lives than the terrorists did. But this is the first year since that awful day that remembrances seem like an afterthought.
Yet, we cannot forget.
We are still responding, 19 years later. Our men and women, many of whom who are too young to remember that fateful day, or perhaps not even born, continue that response in Afghanistan. A generation who have known nothing but a nation at war. They must not be forgotten.
And, 9/11 continues to claim victims nearly two decades on. Mental scars, carcinogens and toxins. Not just for first responders on the scene, but for those investigators and volunteers who came later. We must care for our own.
Those who committed that dastardly crime against humanity didn’t care about race, religion, sexuality or politics. They only saw one target — Americans. Surely they were not wiser than us?
In the wake of those horrific events, we made a promise. Now, more than ever, is the time to keep it. Never Forget.