20 Years Ago Today

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.

Stunned disbelief.

I was born in New York City.

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.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “20 Years Ago Today

  • Wyrd Smythe

    This is a repeat of a post I published ten years ago. I thought it was worth republishing it today.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    There is also this consideration:

    Indeed. As usual, I agree completely with Olbermann.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I was actually on a cruise in the Caribbean that day. We were coming in from the beaches of the island, Castaway Cay, and one of the cleaning staff asked us if we’d watched TV in the last few hours and suggested we might want to. One of the other customers chimed in about planes hitting the WTC and Pentagon.

    The mind does weird things in those moments. My first thought was little Cessnas hitting these buildings. Why? The idea of something more than that seemed incomprehensible, like something out of a Tom Clancy novel that couldn’t be reality. Then we turned on the TV and the full scale hit us like an avalanche.

    We watched for a few hours. I wanted to continue watching but my cousin urged us to go enjoy our vacation while we could. But even sunny Castaway Cay seemed somehow less safe now. Splashing in the water, we suddenly wondered what it would be like to get back into the country. Suddenly the lack of cell service, which up to that day had been a perk, was starkly isolating.

    I remember thinking that week that we’d likely be involved in a lot of wars moving forward, and even predicted there was a good chance we wouldn’t be careful or precise about it. And at that time, I didn’t care. But I also predicted I would eventually, and that it would be an awful hangover.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It certainly was one of those “you always remember where you were” occasions. Kind of the El Grande of those. For me the two shuttle losses come close. I was so young I barely even remember either Kennedy assassination, let alone where I was, but I know for older folks the JFK one especially was such an occasion.

      First words out of my mouth, once it was explained to me that what I just saw wasn’t the trailer for some new disaster movie (as you say, right out of Tom Clancy), were: “Someone’s gonna get their ass kicked over this!”

      That Keith Olbermann clip I put in the comments speaks loudly to the hangover, although I can trace our national sense of cruelty further back than that. For instance, there’s a line in Steve Martin’s 1991 movie, L.A. Story, about “the new cruelty.” A cameo by Chevy Chase. He’s given a bad table at the hot new restaurant, La Idiot, and asks if it’s because of “the new cruelty” (fad).

      I’ve always thought our culture started losing its soul back in the “ME!” decade of the 1980s.

  • Anonymole

    I wonder if the birth of the US as the world’s cop after the World Wars ushered in the mindset that aggression must always be fought with overwhelming, devastating counter-aggression. “You hurt us or anybody on our whitelist, we will CRUSH you.”

    Not only that, but the Nuclear era, the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction insisted that if you so much as mistakenly launch a missile at us, or pretend to, we will destroy you regardless of the fact that it would destroy us too.

    We are right and you will be erased — at all costs.

    Isn’t it true that terrorists always win?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      There are few things quite as dangerous as a righteous human. Our ability to rationalize the imperative need to save you from yourself is unparalleled. You will adhere to our clearly superior values. Or else!

      Terrorists win because they’re willing to break some of our strongest social conventions. Supposedly even the Mafia follow conventions regarding families and children. Terrorism seeks to target your most vulnerable parts. Shock and awe. How do you fight someone with no rules without becoming the very thing you’re fighting?

      Funny how terrorists fighting for things we believe in are just revolutionaries. Such a tricky concept: Our cause is just, therefore so are the means we’re forced to use. What price justice?

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