Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago was 9/11

I was in the car on the way to work. It was a Tuesday and therefore a very hectic production deadline day for the weekly newspaper I edited. Just as I got to my desk, Ben called to say he'd heard on NPR that a plan had crashed into the World Trade Center. I hung up thinking that was pretty stupid of the pilot, since the weather was perfectly clear; I assumed it was a small plane whose pilot had a seizure or something. Then I heard that a second plane had hit the other tower. I immediately logged onto CNN.com but of course got nothing due to the totally overloaded bandwidth. I was the only one in the office with a radio, so people crammed into my cubicle listening to the local public radio station. The plane hit the Pentagon; there was a report of a car bomb at the State Dept. All flights were cancelled indefinitely. A colleague burst into tears. I kept putting the paper together because no one told me to stop, and I figured that someone might just send me a new story in the afternoon about what had happened and how it was relevant to our college. So I dashed periodically into my boss' office (he was out at emergency meetings all day), which had a small TV with no cable hookup. People were sitting on the floor watching the one fuzzy channel we could get. At one point I ran in to check on the situation and my colleagues said the tower had fallen. I couldn't really make it out on the TV screen and certainly couldn't take it into my head. I was totally focused on the immediate task at hand. This task got harder when the mother of our young production assistant called and pleaded with him to come home because the college has a small nuclear reactor nearby for research purposes and who knew what might get hit next. I was right about the news article in our paper, which talked about a vigil the next morning and the temporary closure of some sensitive research facilities.

That night I spoke to my aunt, whose son worked in the Pentagon. He had been in the building that morning but not the part where the plane hit. My father and stepmother were in Europe and had no hope of getting home anytime soon. At her request, I called my stepbrother to tell him she was OK. It was the first time I had spoken to him since a horrible family incident about 15 years earlier, though he lived about 20 minutes away. My aunt had heard from reliable sources that the military had shot down the plane in Pennsylvania to prevent it from crashing into the White House. My brother was on the East Coast and also had no easy way of getting back to his family in Texas. He eventually was able to rent a car and drove straight through.

In September 2001, I was pregnant with our second child. Now, reading the accounts of cell phone calls from the towers and the words of children whose parents were killed is harder than it was five years ago. The thought of me or Ben having to call each other or the girls to say goodbye, or having to tell my kids that their father had been killed, of Ben doing the same, is more upsetting the ever. The events of the last five years – Al Qaeda, Iran, Afghanistan, global Islamic jihad and all that – put 9/11 into some context. The effect on me has been to harden my contempt for religion (not to be confused with spirituality) and convince me that using military force against an ideology (even one as fucked up as Islamic fundamentalism) is just pouring gasoline on the fire. And that the biggest threat is fear - the Islamist's fear of God's retribution, our own fear (so ably sown by our government) of personal harm at the hands of terrorists, and fear of ideas and beliefs that contradict our own.

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