I hate today.
On this day in 2001, the things I’d believed my whole life suddenly didn’t make sense anymore. As we watched the day unfold in the horrific way it did, as the situation got worse just when we thought it couldn’t, it was clear that the world had dramatically changed.
Victor was working a graveyard shift that week and I was still asleep when he got home that Tuesday morning. He sat at the foot of the bed and turned the TV on, and I was thinking, “Geez, I’m sleeping here!” He said planes hit the World Trade Center and the buildings fell. I asked if it was a terrorist attack or an accident and he said there was speculation it was terrorists. I wondered if the date was significant at all, thinking of the Branch Davidian compound/Oklahoma City bombing connections. No one really knew yet exactly what was happening. We sat and watched the reports until Katie woke. I got up to feed her and turned on the news downstairs. Every network showed the footage of the buildings collapsing over and over, and finally Katie—who was watching from her high chair, I realized—started saying, “Uh oh!” every time. The Disney channel was one of the few networks that had not interrupted their programming, and when I switched over to something more Katie-appropriate, it was strange to hear the cheery “Bear in the Big Blue House” song. I turned back and forth throughout the day. With all the anxiety coursing through my eight-months-pregnant body, I was sure Jack would be born a complete neurotic (so far, so good…).
Strangely, I felt the need to call my family members. It seemed silly to check in with them—of course they were okay, they were all over here in the west—but I had to connect and hear their voices.
A friend of Victor’s had been vacationing in New York City that weekend and was scheduled to fly back to L.A. Tuesday morning. Just when she arrived at the airport for departure, the first plane hit; in fact, they could see Manhattan across the water. There was chaos throughout the airport, and within a short time they were told all flights were cancelled. She and her daughter met another woman who also needed to get back to L.A. and they got the last rental car available and drove across the country together.
My friend Deanna and her husband were driving from the Oregon Coast back to Boise that day. They heard the news on the radio and listened for updates the whole way home, but it wasn’t until that evening that they actually got to a TV. She said that even after hearing the destruction described all day long, it was truly horrifying to finally see the images.
Months later, I remember talking with a friend about September 11 and how much it has changed our lives. She agreed that our country has changed, but said she didn’t feel like her day-to-day life was any different than before. I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with me, then? Why do I feel like everything now is defined as ‘before 9/11’ and ‘after 9/11’?” It’s not that I live in constant fear, but now whenever I go to an Internet news page I wonder what dreadful new developments I’ll read. The fact that our country is at war means that a lot of our headlines are tragic, but after 9/11 I think we’re all somewhat less shocked by them. I hate that.
But it’s the little things too. I miss meeting people at the airport gate. Waiting outside the checkpoint is just not the same. When passengers have had time to make phone calls, go to the restroom and grab a snack, it takes away that thrill of seeing them when they first arrive, when they first walk off that plane. It makes me angry that some jackass that hates the U.S. has taken away that tiny little joy from me.
I also hate having to undress at the security checkpoint every time I fly. I used to throw my watch in my purse and walk on through. Now I have to take off my shoes, belt, jewelry, coat, empty my bags… it’s a lot more hassle. I’m not saying it’s pointless. It’s just a sad fact of our lives now.
A few years ago I remember seeing an author on a morning talk show who had just written a book having something to do with 9/11. I don’t remember anything about the book or the interview, except that he said this: “If nothing else, on 9/11 we learned that we could die while doing something as simple as reaching for a cup of coffee.” And for days afterward, I imagined what it might have been like for those people in the towers, going about their daily routine. When the planes hit, some of them were killed immediately. They were the lucky ones, we would find out. The others, injured. Waiting for that helicopter they were assured would rescue them. Breaking windows so they could breathe less toxic air. Making phone calls. Oh, how agonizing the phone calls must have been.
What angers me is that these people—as well as those on the airplanes—weren’t doing anything wrong. They were going about their lives, just like the rest of us. They were talking on phones, in meetings, surfing the Internet, standing at the photocopier. They were reaching for a cup of coffee. There are some remarkable stories of survival and heroics from that day, but there were a lot of people that never had a chance. Did they deserve to die more than those who barely made it out of the towers before they collapsed (the ones that are so sure God’s hand led them out)? What about all the men whose wives were pregnant, whose babies were born months later and will never know their fathers? The children whose parents dropped them off at school that morning and then headed to work at the WTC?
So how have the things I’ve accepted as truth my whole life become less believable to me? More than anything, I wonder how this happened. Not how the CIA didn’t catch it in time, but bigger than that. Where was God? People say, “God allows these things to happen blah blah blah… someday we’ll understand why blah blah blah… ” but I don’t accept that. In fact, it makes more sense to me that maybe there isn’t actually a greater power in control of all that happens. I can accept that much more easily than “He works in mysterious ways.” I was on the fence for a long time before 9/11, obviously, but I feel like what happened six years ago today pushed me over and knocked me on my arse as far as believing in God is concerned.
I hate today. I hate it because we are all a little harder (“tougher,” if you prefer). For many in our country, remembrance of September 11 perpetuates the hate that made the terrorists act. For others (me included), it is the shaky justification for the pointless war we’re currently fighting. But for me personally, September 11 represents the loss of many things.