Sep 10, 2006

9/11 Reflections, Part One

Five years have passed. It seems so bizarre to me that it has been that long. I know that everyone has a story about what was going on in their lives when they heard the news. We were at the hospital, awaiting the arrival of our first child. (I'll get into that more tomorrow.) This was one of those days - the ones everyone will remember forever. How couldn't you? It has to rank right up there as the most infamous days ever. What other days are even in that league? I know that Pearl Harbor is one; the JFK assassination is another; the Challenger explosion would qualify.

What do all of those days have in common? They were days when innocence and trust and safety were stripped away. With Pearl Harbor, America was no longer able to play from the sidelines in WWII. They were dragged in, not of their own doing. There were vile enemies inflicting real damage, but it was far away and easy to dismiss. When those bombers hit our ships in Hawaii, those enemies had brought their evil to our land. It was a foregone conclusion to most in the government that we would have to get involved, and that probably was true of many citizens as well. But we were AMERICA. We set the rules - we entered the war when we wanted. And then all the sudden our hand was forced, our boys were wounded, and our safety was gone.

The JFK assassination was just as shocking. There have only been four Presidential assassinations in US history. We had not seen that happen since 1899. Out of nowhere, this young President was taken away. JFK had resonated with so many people. If you liked his politics or not, you had to admit he was certainly a charismatic leader. And more importantly, he was OUR president. No matter how much an American hates a President, I doubt you would find too many who would laugh if he were killed in office. Once again, the innocence, trust, and safety was torn away. No one knew who was behind the killing. They were just stunned.

When the Challenger blew up, I was in my sixth grade social studies class. The class clown had gone to the clinic for some reason. He came back in the door and told us the Challenger had blown up. "That's not funny Damien." (Yes, his real name was Damien.) He kept insisting he wasn't kidding. We all just kind of sat stunned, with the teacher wondering if that was the one with the teacher on it. Shuttle launches had become so common by then. People hardly took notice. That was why NASA had started doing stuff like the teacher in space (in my opinion). Again, the last space related accident was in the sixties. And this was the new improved space program. It just didn't make sense for that to happen. Our sixth grade trip was to Cape Kennedy that year - in April I think. They still had the place off kilter. I remember on the tour they told us that normally we would be able to see one area, but it was restricted due to the investigation of the wreckage.

When a nation goes through events like that it takes away so much. America learned after Pearl Harbor that it was not safe from the events around them. It learned after JFK that our public officials are not safe all the time either. It learned after the Challenger that space travel is indeed dangerous (which is why there wasn't the same shock after the Columbia disaster). I think that 9/11 was so devastating because it tore away even more of the innocence and trust and safety. But this time it was from a faceless enemy. There was no war. No person of note was the target. This wasn't some adventurous frontier with a knowing risk factor.

This was a cowardly attack on innocent people. This was targeting symbols of America's success - the Twin Towers that we used as icons of NYC and the country. But it also took away our trust in our air travel. They used our own planes against us. In one horrendous act, we lost our safety in the air and in our big cities - and really in our lives. Who is to say when they will strike again? We kept hearing the terror alerts get raised. There were attacks in Japan and Spain and London and Bali. I live in Orlando, and I know there is always a fear about something happening at Disney. I am sure that this is how the nation felt after Pearl Harbor as well. I just know that for my own life, it was so shocking and distressing - and in many ways it still is. I still get choked up when I see the adjusted NYC skyline. I'm still not ready to watch films and documentaries - the wound is too raw. It didn't just affect New York - it shook the entire country in so many areas that it will never be the same. It can't be. Whether or not the new America that emerged is better or worse will take far more than five years to determine.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about my personal experience with 9/11 - and the hope we found in a little boy. I know that I'm not an expert at all. But that is what made 9/11 so powerful - you don't have to be a big shot to have thoughts about it.

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