Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sept. 11, 2001

In a lot of ways, it is hard to believe it has been 10 years since the attacks. At the time, caught up in the immediacy and horror and destruction, 10 years seemed impossibly far off.

But now here we are. Like most people, I have a clear memory of that Tuesday, and where I was when I first heard.

I had started work at the Chicago Tribune perhaps a week earlier. Tuesday was my first day off. And because I worked nights, I was asleep when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. My friend Chris called, woke me up and told me to run, not walk, to the TV because something insane was happening in New York.

I flipped on the set just in time to see the second plane hit. It wasn't until the first tower collapsed that I began frantically calling friends and relatives in New York; of course, that was about the time phone calls in and out of that state became virtually impossible.

The only other time I can remember watching so much continuous news coverage is in the aftermath of the 2000 election, when I lived in the land of hanging chads. In 2001, it was a blurry stream of information and misinformation. I was told not to come into work because it was iffy whether the El trains were safe. There was a suicide plane headed to Chicago. The Air Force had shot down more airliners. Fifty thousand people were dead, then 20,000, then 10,000, then 3,000. Some things became clearer as the day went on; others just became murkier.

Everyday life intervened, as it always did. Taking a break from the TV, I took the trash out to the alley so I could get some fresh air--and in doing so, I locked myself out of my apartment. In retrospect, I think I was lucky during that day of extreme paranoia that no one called the police as I climbed up into a window on my back porch.

In the end, there was no personal tragedy for me. All of my friends and family were safe. But the gut-wrenching feeling of witnessing mass murder made that relief seem a little paltry.

I don't know that there is any right or wrong way to mark the anniversary of the most traumatic event for America since I have been alive. Just about every media outlet on the planet will be discussing it in some way or another. It has been interesting to see Gulf media take a look at 9/11: interesting to see the perspective but also a little frustrating because so few people seem to be able to accept Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda's involvement. (For a great examination of such conspiracy theories, check this out.)

Living abroad has, in many ways, made me more fond of my home country. And I hope it never has to suffer through a day like Sept. 11, 2001, again.

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