Twenty years ago today I was at work, and the world was largely as it had always been: sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful. As it had always been.
As I worked at my desk I slowly became aware of a general level of commotion coming from our “TV area” (an area nearby where we sometimes met for meetings). The commotion continued, but I knew we had no meetings scheduled that morning. Eventually I got up to see what was going on.
As I approached, it was apparent that most of the department was there; a couple of the guys were standing in the doorway. I rounded the corner and looked in and saw the TV screen just in time to see (a replay of) the second tower falling.
That was my first contact with 9/11. Seeing the second tower fall.
I thought, at first, it was a movie special effect.
A co-worker explained what it really was.
At that point, both Towers fallen, they were showing the images over and over. It didn’t take long to see the earlier images, to see the first tower fall, to see the second plane hit, to see the second tower fall, to see that the Pentagon had also been hit.
Over and over.
Images and experiences that have since become part of our national iconography, a part of our national consciousness.
Images that are permanently seared into us. Images that changed us forever.
We became a different nation that day; that day we suffered a form of brutal rape that changed us forever. It changed our path, it changed our hearts, it changed our minds.
Twenty years later the experience is still vivid. The memories are still raw. Two decades hasn’t changed that. Once lost, innocence is not regained easily or quickly. It may sometimes not be regained ever again.
I know, half a continent away, in the sleepy Midwest, that I was profoundly touched and deeply affected by that day. It put upon me a dark and ugly mood that lasted about a year. A somber regard for a world so ugly, with unanticipated peril lurking around any bend.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the office workers who thought it was just another day in the life of an office worker. Just another day at the office. Or the fire fighters and other emergency workers called that day to answer an emergency unlike any they had ever experienced. The heroism of people did show that day. We remember them and honor them.
But it was a day that changed us. The world continues to be sometimes difficult, sometimes easy. The world continues to be sometimes painful, sometimes joyful. The world really hasn’t changed so very much.
But we are changed.
And we remember.