Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Ten Years Later

Photo from webcam.
Photo credit: Craig Ruttle. From website.
Has it really been 10 years since the 9/11 attacks? On one hand, it seems like only yesterday. On the other hand, it seems like a lifetime ago. I saw images of the memorial park at Ground Zero today... with the two square waterfalls in the footprint of the towers, etched with the victims' names. It struck me as beautifully simple and elegant at first. Then it occurred to me how the water cascading down into the footprints of those buildings seemed reminiscent of the towers perpetually collapsing. Maybe that's what the designer intended, so we'd never forget how so many lost their lives there. As if anyone could.

Like just about everyone who was over the age of five or six at the time, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at 9:03 a.m. that Tuesday morning 10 years ago today. I remember noticing what a beautiful day it was here that morning... warm but not very humid, with a cloudless deep blue sky. I was sitting at my desk at work, when a coworker came in and said "Did you hear? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center." When the second plane hit the towers, we all knew it was no accident. My first thought was "Bet Osama Bin Laden is behind it."

My second thought was "Oh shit... my mom and her husband are traveling back from a trip to Italy today... I know she's coming through New York to Chicago (they lived in Illinois at the time)... Is she safe?" I was relieved to learn a short time later that the flights that hit the twin towers originated in Boston, so Mom wouldn't have been on them. Then I started wondering if she'd be able to to get home at all, since flights were being grounded after the third and fourth crashes at the Pentagon and the field near Shanksville, PA. I had no way to reach her... she didn't have a cell phone at the time, and I doubt it would have been on if she had. It wasn't until much later that day when she called me from home that I learned for sure she was safe.

Here's where it gets a little freaky... they flew into New York City very late the night before, and were supposed to have flown on to Chicago that night. There was a problem with the connecting plane, however, and all the other flight crews were already at their max allowed hours. So the airline rescheduled them on a 9:00 or 10:00 flight to Chicago the next morning and put them up for the rest of the night in NYC. When they brought the passengers back to the airport at around 5:00 a.m. the next morning, my mom explained to the ticket agent that they'd been up travelling for more than 24 hours and asked if she could bump them to first class. The ticket agent said, "No, but I can get you on an earlier flight." So instead of the 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. flight, which probably would have been grounded, they flew out of LaGuardia at 7:00-ish the morning of the 11th. My mom told me that as they took off and flew over the city, she glanced out the window and said "Oh look! There's the World Trade Center!" Little did she (or anyone) know that a plane like theirs would smash into that landmark less than two hours later.

As she and her husband flew from NYC to Chicago that morning, they were blissfully unaware of the events unfolding that were fundamentally changing our country. When they landed in Chicago, they grabbed their bags, picked up their car and started the 3- or 4-hour drive to their home. They were listening to CDs on the ride, and only turned on the radio when they got close to their town. That's when they first heard the reports of the attacks. She said they thought it was a hoax, like Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" radio drama. It wasn't until they were home and saw the news on TV that they realized it was real. That's when she called me. I can't tell you how glad I am that she was on that early flight instead of a later one.

I also found out later that my cousin was in NYC that day for a meeting that was to be held in one of buildings in the World Trade Center compound, though I don't think it was in one of the twin towers. She and her group of coworkers were among the masses who walked across the bridge to New Jersey after the attacks. I don't know if she was still in the immediate area when the towers fell. If I remember correctly, she was stranded for several days at the NJ home of her company's president, along with the rest of her group, until she was able to arrange transportation back home to the Carolinas.

While I feel fortunate that I lost no loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, I think we ALL lost a little piece of our souls that day. It's still difficult to accept that there is such barbaric evil in the world... that a handful of human beings could so willfully and callously inflict such immediate and horrific damage to other human beings. It would have been terrible enough just to have flown the planes into the twin towers... I don't think even the perpetrators foresaw the subsequent collapse and the exponentially increased trauma it caused, though I'm sure they WOULD have planned it that way if possible. And on top of the grief I felt already, I was sickened at seeing the joyous street celebrations by some Islamic groups in the Middle East at the news of our tragedy.

Because of this act of terrorism and the cruel celebration of it by a few Islamic extremists, Muslims everywhere now seem to be looked at with suspicion and distrust. I think that's a shame. I don't think it's right to judge an entire group of people by the act of a few. The truth is, ANY group that has the potential to spin off extremist factions can be just as dangerous and deadly as the 9/11 attackers, and have been in the past. There's the homegrown Oklahoma City and Atlanta Olympics bombings, perpetrated by our own citizens. Centruries ago, Christians had the Crusades and later the Spanish Inquisition, and even today have been responsible for deadly bombings of women's health clinics and the murder of gays because of their differing beliefs. The Nazis committed genocide based on racial and cultural differences, and the KKK lynched and brutalized others based on race. Since the beginning of time, history is full of examples of man's inhumanity against man, motivated by nothing other than differences between groups. I wonder if it will ever end. I know that in the long run, things never turn out as the perpetrators of such terrorism hope for. We, as Americans, were NOT beaten by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

People are resilient, and I still believe mankind is mostly good. So why all the unnecessary bloodshed? It seems the basic principle of every major religion essentially boils down to the Golden Rule of "treat others as you would like to be treated". Why can't we all just do that?

The Dalai Lama once said, "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

He also said, "Love and kindness are the very basis of society. If we lose these feelings, society will face tremendous difficulties; the survival of humanity will be endangered."

I don't personally ascribe to any organized religion, but I have to wonder what the world would be like if everyone was Buddhist. I can't imagine that terrorists and hatred could exist in such a world. It's a beautiful thought.

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