As we approach the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, my thoughts again returned to where I was as the events of that terrible day unfolded.I appreciate the gift of writing that the Lord has given me, because soon after the event I captured how I spent 9/11. The article now remains to help me – and hopefully you – never forget. Even though my long time readers may remember these words – they have been published a number of times before – I hope they will continue to speak to those of you who chose to invest the time reading them.
So what were YOU doing on 9/11? I remember quite clearly. Along with millions of other Americans, the day began normally for me. I woke up in Los Angeles (where at the time I was pursuing classes for my Ph.D.), expecting to get the first plane back to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I had plans to put in a full day’s work at the office. However, my plans were about to change.
By 5.30 a.m. Pacific Time I was at LAX. I grabbed a cup of coffee, stood in line and obtained my boarding pass. About 6.40 a.m. I heard rumors my plane had been delayed for about an hour-and-a-half but at that time I didn’t know why. I wasn’t overly concerned as I had a couple of good books to read. My plans changed a little.
A few minutes later an announcement came over the intercom from another airline stating that one of their flights which had originally been scheduled to leave at the same time as mine would not be leaving until 3 p.m. at the earliest. Something was mentioned about a terrorist attack in New York. I soon discovered that my flight wouldn’t leave till about 3 p.m. either. My plans changed even more.
Realizing that something serious must be happening, I made my way over to a bank of televisions where an ever-increasing number of people were gathering. I quickly found out the full extent of the disaster. Terrorists had hijacked four commercial planes, and dive bombed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania Countryside. The damage was so bad that the 110-story World Trade Center had been obliterated.
As the growing crowd of people around me glued to the television increased and as they realized what had happened, faces turned grim and some people shook their heads in apparent disbelief that such a tragic scenario was unfolding in America.
Still having no idea how much my plans were going to change for that day (though nothing in comparison to the terrible tragedies suffered by those who gave their lives or lost loved ones) I thought that I would just “hang out” at the airport and get that 3 p.m. plane back home.
However, a few minutes later I received a phone call from someone who suggested that I should rent a car. This individual suggested that I should do so quickly as it was likely a number of other people may have the same idea. I agreed and reserved a car at the company which I regularly used.
How glad I was that I did so, as within a few minutes of confirming my reservation, my airline asked everyone to come back up the desk, where they recalled my boarding pass and cancelled my flight. Within a few minutes of that happening, an announcement was made that every flight in the entire country was being grounded. A few minutes later, an order was given for the airport to be evacuated.
People exited quickly, but nonetheless in an orderly fashion, and Los Angeles Airport, normally a maelstrom of activity, quickly became a ghost town. I made my way over to the car rental company, picked up my car after making sure that I had been given adequate directions, (a nice way of describing my sense of direction is to call me directionally challenged) and started driving.
At various and sometimes unexpected times throughout the long drive I caught glimpses of a shaken America. Pulling off the highway at an outlet mall to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, a tersely written sign taped to the door and scratched on a brown paper bag announced, “Closed, due to national tragedy.”
However, seeing there were still people inside I poked my nose in and asked the two or three people sitting there if there was still chance of a cup of coffee. The girl who answered me, who appeared to be in her late teens and only barely able to keep her composure, answered, “Sorry, we really are closed.” I wondered if she’d lost loved ones in the tragedy or if like me, she was wondering how this could happen in America. Her plans had changed too.
Pulling in to a truck stop a few hours later to make a phone call, I heard a burly trucker in the phone booth next to me announce to someone, “Just calling to check in and tell you that I love you. I’ll be home tomorrow.” Maybe he called home (or wherever) regularly to “check in.” If not, I hope that he continues the practice. Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to do a reality check on what really matters in life.
Returning back to the highway for my next long driving stint, I gazed up at the sky at frequent intervals and realized what a phenomenon I was witnessing. Not a single plane to be seen in the sky. By the lack of what I was seeing, I was witnessing history.
At my next rest stop I wandered into a truck stop full of televisions where not surprisingly everyone in the store had gravitated toward the section housing the televisions, which were all tuned in to CNN. Nobody seemed to be saying much; everyone just seemed to be trying to absorb the fact that the carnage they were witnessing wasn’t occurring in a backwater nation ruled by an iron fisted despot, but it was happening right here in America.
During the journey, I also sampled whatever radio stations I could pick up. After having listened to the news, listeners seemed glad that talk radio was giving them some sort of outlet for a collective chat (as one talk show host put it) around the electronic fireside. Not surprisingly, many listeners were angry; but at the same time exercising a disbelief that with all of our sophisticated intelligence gathering techniques that a tragedy of such proportions could occur in America.
I finally arrived home somewhere close to midnight and collapsed into bed exhausted. At least I had arrived home. Many who had left loved ones that morning had done so for the last time, impacted by events that would change their lives and the life of America for ever,
Over the weeks and months that followed 9/11, we learned of many acts of heroism that had occurred on that fateful day as well as in the days following. God’s Name was also mentioned often in previously “forbidden” public places, and there wasn’t a peep heard from those voices that usually protest such utterances.
Shortly after the event, I wrote that only eternity will fully reveal what we as a nation learned from that fateful day. Almost 11 years later, I stand by that statement.