When I stepped into the shower that bright September morning ten years ago, my only thoughts were of the new job I was starting that day. The television was running in the background, and Matt and Katie were yukking it up over some silly thing. It was a good start to a big day.
When I stepped out of the shower, the world had changed. I heard Matt and Katie talking about something odd, so I stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and dripping wet, to take a look at the TV. And there was the first tower crowned with billowing smoke and flames. Wow, I thought, Some idiot flew into the World Trade Center! What a terrible accident!
As I stood there transfixed, listening to the confusion on the Today Show set, I watched in horror as the second plane flew into the towers. This is no accident. At that point, I knew we were under attack. Oddly, I still had a job to get to, so I frantically dressed and headed to work, listening to the radio as journalists tried to disseminate exactly what was happening. When I walked in, a co-worker said that the Pentagon had been hit. Another said a plane came down in Pennsylvania.
This was personal.
A little while later, all the employees were gathered in silence in the break room, staring at a tiny television screen. The footage was of the top of the south tower, and as I watched, I realized the top appeared to be twisting slowly. I remember crying out, but even then, my fear was of the top floors breaking off and falling. I couldn’t comprehend that these behemoth towers could actually disintegrate totally in such a short period of time. But as we watched, the top began to sink into the smoke, and down she came, in a terrible groan of despair and death.
This was personal.
Before that morning, terrorism was something that happened to other people, in other countries. It was certainly sad to see buses exploding in Israel, bombs going off in Northern Ireland, mayhem in Asia. But it wasn’t “real” to us. It was something we watched on TV and we thought (you know it’s true) Thank God that doesn’t happen here.
My husband was working at a trade show in Salt Lake City that second week of September. I was home alone, glued to the news shows, crying endlessly and feeling frantic at the thought of him boarding a plane to fly home once the airports reopened days later. Ever the pragmatist, Hubby pointed out that his convoluted route through Cincinnati to our upstate NY city on commuter jets was probably not a major terrorist target. He also explained that, even if he could find a rental car, the 1300 mile drive would surely be more dangerous than getting on a plane. He was right, of course. But an even bigger shock (ha-ha) was that we were having a serious conversation about which mode of travel in the United States was least likely to be targeted by terrorists. Our world had changed.
A few weeks later, we had another serious discussion over Hubby’s travel-filled job and our vacation plans. Should we change our plans? Avoid the traveling we both loved? Find a different job that didn’t involve frequent flier miles? We agreed that we didn’t want to make those choices. Giving up meant the terrorists succeeded in their plans – they terrorized us into changing our way of living. Hubby and I looked into each other’s eyes and we agreed to keep flying, as much out of defiance as anything else. Not only that, but we would agree, whether flying alone or together, to go down fighting if anything happened on our flights. We promised each other that, in the freak chance that one of us died on a flight targeted by some crazed attacker, the other would know that we stood up and fought.
Was that a bizarre conversation to have? On September 10th, 2001, it would have seemed totally crazy. But after 9/11, I think it made sense. It gave us a deeply personal commitment to hang on to in a suddenly dangerous world.
When I fly these days, I have to remember to wear slip-on shoes so that I can remove them easily to be screened for shoe bombs. Shoe bombs. Seriously? Well, yes – seriously. That’s personal. I have to carry my passport to go to Canada. Canada!! That’s personal. When I’m traveling, I watch for abandoned pieces of luggage, suspicious backpacks, odd behavior – all as a matter of course. A machine that sees through my clothing so that I can get on a plane? Sure, no problem. That’s personal.
The world has changed. But even more important – the world has gone on. Our American spirit didn’t collapse with the Twin Towers. We still go to ballgames and work and church and picnics and concerts and parades and weddings and baby showers. Terror became personal, terror changed our world, but terror did not win.