TEN YEARS AGO TODAY, the September morning was incredibly beautiful. Bob and I hadn't bothered to get dressed. Instead, we lingered long and lazy over coffee, enjoying the national TV news.
The program ended, then we realized it HADN'T ended. We were seeing a live shot of a passenger jet impaled in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Before long, we watched in horror as a second plane hit the second tower; America was under attack! It didn't end with New York City; Washington was next!
We sat like statues, watching the developments. When we noticed one of the Twin Towers appeared to be leaning, my husband and I decided it had to be an illusion due to camera angle. But the great tower actually did collapse upon itself, and through national television we watched it happen... and then the second tower!
At some point as we watched from our Ohio that morning, we were startled by the too-loud, too low, too-close sound of a large airplane overhead; we could feel its rumble! As the sound faded into the distance, we put it out of our minds. In later weeks and months, as details emerged about a hijacked plane that had flown into our northern Ohio skies, we became convinced the plane we'd heard was Flight 93, headed toward Pennsylvania with the heroic passengers who had heard of the attacks through cell phone calls and decided they would free the plane or bring it down! In saving other lives, they lost their own.
For a period of time after the attacks, there would be no passenger planes in our skies; before their absence we could not have realized how much we'd miss them. The first time I would see a commercial jet overhead again was at a rural festival. An old man whipped off his hat and waved it skyward, shouting, "Look!" We crowds of people stood together, smiling upward as we watched that shiny plane traverse the sky. We pondered... When and why and how had that simple every-day sight become so unique and precious to us?
Things changed in other ways. No longer would we stroll into the airport with friends or family as they awaited passenger-loading. No longer would we linger at the windows to wave goodbye as the plane departed. No longer would we board a plane without the growing factors of ever newer rules and humiliations; eventually we'd feel less like passengers and more like perpetrators undergoing a police frisking.
Jobs were instantaneously lost as a result of the attacks. Our economy was seriously disrupted in many ways for quite some time too. Involved as I was in a weekly newspaper, I watched close-up as advertising revenues dried up, and the same was happening nationally; the slow-down was serious.
In a video smuggled out from Usama Bin Laden's base and played through Arab TV, we watched him admit that Al Quaida had planned and staged the attacks. He talked with satisfaction among his cohorts about the effects of the attacks on our country, emotionally and economically.
What must NOT have pleased him, and must have surprised him, were certain other effects. Our people were not split apart, as he had hoped; they were drawn together in great numbers to prayer, faith, churches. Unabashed patriotism re-emerged from its long hibernation. Flags were flown in great abundance. Americans enlisted in the military in great numbers. There was a strong united front among us; country was first among Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike.
That didn't last forever, to be sure, but it lasted quite some time; long enough for us to look at what our country means to us, and to marshal our resources and begin to bring things back together again.
In the week preceding this grim anniversary, Americans have brooded and worried. But perhaps the anniversary should have stirred less fear and instead served as a reminder of how united we Americans were in the days and months that followed 9-11.
Without catastrophe, or even with it, can we be that way again?