Everyone remembers where they were when they found out about the attacks on 9/11. I remember driving into the city and thinking that it was a particularly clear day, not a cloud in the sky.
Three hours after leaving my house, I was sitting in my office at Nickelodeon (I was the publisher of Nickelodeon Magazine) working on 2002 projections when I received an IM from my brother “hey Jeff some idiot just flew a plane into one of the trade center towers.”
Working for a TV Network had its advantages, I had a TV hooked up to cable in my office. I quickly grabbed the remote, turned on the TV to see the second tower impact. At the time I thought it was an instant replay of the first one. The same thing happened when each of the towers collapsed. It was all so surreal, this was the United States of America it couldn’t happen here.
Much of the rest of the morning is a blur, my staff crowded into my office we watched in horror as people jumped off a tower to their deaths. Then again as we saw the smoldering Pentagon building and finally as each tower collapse. We even heard rumors of a fourth plane that was shot down over Pennsylvania (in actuality Flight 93 was purposely crashed by the Hijackers because the brave passengers had decided to take control of the plane back).
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The talking heads at MSNBC (it was more of a real news network) started speculating about anthrax. Heightening our feelings of dread.
At twelve noon there was an announcement that the east river crossings were once again open. I called my wife to tell her I was coming home (she begged me not to fearing another attack) I raced for the garage and began a 40 mile drive that took way over four hours.
Outside my office near Times Square, about two miles from the now smoldering ruins of the towers one could taste the air. Breathing felt strange because the air had a texture it felt like particles of glass were mixed in with the oxygen.
Manhattan had always seemed larger than life to me, but that day it seemed small and vulnerable. Or maybe it was the entire United States that seemed vulnerable.
Staring at the ominous scene surrounding me as my car crawled its way across the 59th Street bridge it felt like something out of a bad “Godzilla” movie…crowds of shocked people were crowding the bridge, crossing on foot to make sure they got off that tiny island as soon as possible.
But this was not “Chiller Theater” this was unbelievably real. Looking out of my car toward downtown Manhattan, the beautiful skyline and cloudless sky that was present during the my drive into work just a few short hours before was replaced by an impenetrable curtain of black over the East River. The aroma of the invigorating autumn air was replaced by a noxious burning smell seeping into my car through the air vents.
Because everyone was trying to use their cell phones at the same time, the cells were overwhelmed, service was non existent. Three hours into my drive I finally reached my wife now frantic because I was out of touch for so long.
When I finally got out of the borough of Queens and into Nassau County the Long Island Expressway, sometimes known as the world’s largest parking lot, suddenly opened up. The traffic wasn’t just light, it was eerily non-existent (especially on the west bound lanes which lead back into the city). Just a few minutes later I noticed why. At every single exit Nassau County police cars were blocking the west bound on ramps. The message was clear, people were free to leave New York but they weren’t getting back in until they knew that this first foreign attack on US soil since 1814 was over.
After finally reaching home, I spent the rest of the day watching the first reports of heroism which filtered out the tragedy.
As is my regular practice at about 7:45 pm, I left my house drove to my Synagogue for the evening minyan. Usually we have a group of 15-20 people at evening prayers, but this day was different. People began to filter into Shul in groups, fellow congregants who’s Synagogue appearances are usually limited to the High Holy days showed up to pray. Each one (like me) had a dull shocked look on their face, slowly walking into the Sanctuary. Our normal crowd of less than two dozen was more than three hundred, desperate to appeal to God for the safety of their friends and family whose fates were still unknown and for the success of their country in the War they knew would follow.
This scene was duplicated in Houses of God, for many faiths from ‘sea to shining sea.”
September 11 was not the first terrorist attack against the United States, the attack was foreshadowed by incidents such as the First Trade Center bombing and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.
Those earlier acts were treated by the United States as crimes, each perpetuated by small group of terrorist operators. It was only after 9/11 that this country realized that there was a worldwide network of people willing to kill themselves to bring down our way of life. Only after 9/11 did we stop searching for “criminals” and begin a war against Islamist Terrorists (at least for a little while).
Back then Toby Keith expressed the feeling of many of us with his song, The Angry American:
Despite what our President says, we are fighting a war against Islamists who use terrorism, or whatever the Department of Homeland Security wants to call it this week, to destroy the the West our freedoms and lifestyle. People who want to use violence to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate.
Theirs is a very patient culture that will wait centuries if necessary to get even with those who they perceived as doing them wrong.
That is their advantage, we are a culture who demands immediate gratification. Ten years after 9/11 there are some many would have us give up that war…give into the terrorists.
In 2008 we elected a President who refused to recognize our enemy. Almost four years later many in both parties are preaching isolationism. The Democratic Party removed from its campaign platform provision to isolate the terror group Hamas. Others are promising to balance the bloated federal deficit by gutting our nation’s defenses. Whether they mean to or not, these cuts may result in America suffering through the horrors of 9/11 over again, certainly our military weakness will make it more likely.
When I close my eyes I still remember that horrible stench, the texture of the air, and the black smoke.
In the past eleven years so much has changed-nothing has changed. Far too many people have forgotten the taste of the air, the curtain of black smoke, the scenes of horror, acts of bravery everything associated with that horrible day that changed our lives.
Eleven years after that horrible Tuesday morning ten years ago,the answer to Darryl Worley’s epic song “Have You Forgotten?” may very well be yes.