I remember, as a kid, my parents and other adults talking about the “Where were you when JFK was shot?” question.
I never really grasped the import behind those conversations until September 11th, 2001, when my mother called the office where my father and I were working to tell us that something awful was happening in New York.
We got the call after the first plane had hit the towers but before the second. We hadn’t heard anything about the Pentagon yet, or Flight 93.
The first indication that what had happened was something beyond the normal sort of awful headlines we’re subjected to every day was when I went looking for news online. A lot of the news websites wouldn’t load. Those that did were in chaos, and changing about as fast as I could refresh them.
Finally I went back to our copy room and got the antenna running for the television to bring in some broadcast news, and what we saw was a footage of a smoldering tower with a stilted voice over from clearly flustered news anchors.
A plane wreck, we assumed. Some pilot made a catastrophic mistake.
Then we watched the second plane hit live on television.
We stood there watching in shocked silence.
For me, something had changed in those moments as I watched the television. The world seemed like a place less safe than it had been earlier in the day.
It was my “where were you” moment.
When the twin towers went down I was at work, standing next to my father, terrified because it was the first time I’d ever seen him look scared.
In the years since the attacks 9/11 has become a sort of punch line. The reflexive patriotism it provoked is mocked.
My father and I, once we got our wits about us, went to the store that day and managed to snag the last few American flags on the shelf. We put one up at the office, one up at his house, and I took one home for myself.
Driving home it seemed like every house had a flag on display. I remember feeling pride when I put my own up.
The mockery today grates, because the motivations behind that move toward patriotism and unity was real.
Not everything motivated by 9/11 was – there were reams of bad public policy put in place in the aftermath of that awful day – but for a while there was a purity to it that was undeniable.
I’m surprised, all these years later, that 9/11-style attacks haven’t become more normal in America. Had you polled us back then (and maybe someone did) I think most would have said that we’d inevitably get another attack on that scale.
We didn’t, though, and not for lack of trying. There have been attacks at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, and Orlando, but none of those things comes close to what 9/11 was.
Yesterday was this blog’s 15th anniversary. It’s no coincidence that I started the blog the day before the 2nd anniversary of 9/11.
The attacks turned my head. They made me want to engage with the world around me. Writing here was a way for me to do that.
But not a day goes by that I don’t wish for the innocence I enjoyed on 9/10.