9/11 ten years later

I remember that morning so well. I had a doctor appointment, so instead of going into work like I normally would, I left the house later. My appointment was sometime after 9 in the morning, so I left some amount of time early.

Now our house is located in a town about a half hour north of NYC. If I stand at the end of my driveway I can see the Hudson River. My car was parked in the driveway, and as I was about to get in I heard an airplane flying by. I looked up and saw it flying on a southward path along the Hudson. I now know that that was Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

I was driving to my doctors and listening to the traffic. Almost immediately there was a commotion about a plane hitting the north tower. At that point everyone assumed that it was a small plane that hit it by accident. I kept flipping through the stations and was hearing a lot of confusing comments about what happened.

Sometime after 9 a traffic report helicopter was reporting about a plane hitting the south tower. At that point I heard this exchange:

Radio Announcer: Excuse me, don’t you mean the north tower?
Traffic Reporter: No, a second plane hit the south tower. We know because we barely got out of the way before it hit.

At that point I knew we were under attack by terrorists. Honestly, I was scared.

Once I got to the doctor’s office I asked if anyone knew what was going on at the World Trace Center. This was the first they had heard of this, and two women working in the office started to cry because they had boyfriends or spouses that worked there. I barely remember the doctor appointment itself.

After that, I started to drive to work, but then it hit me – the bridge I take (the Tappan Zee Bridge) is closest bridge to New York City over the Hudson. Perhaps the other bridges will be taken out or worse. I was talking with my boss on my cell phone and told him I was turning around and going home. Of course he understood.

While I was driving the first tower collapsed. I was in something like shock at this point. I knew I had to get home to my wife.

Once I got home I stood in the living room and watched as the second tower fell.

That afternoon I spoke with a coworker of mine, a Post Doc from Germany. He had found out that one of his best friends from Germany was travelling with his pregnant wife on one of the planes. It was their first visit to the US.

When my kids came home from school we told them. They told us that the school went into lockdown mode. They said that every once in a while the main office would call their rooms asking for one of the children to be escorted out. My daughter told me she saw some people crying in the hallway. My son, who was younger, said that they thought it was a bear or a gunman outside of their school, sinc the schools were not telling them what was going on. They saw the video playback of the towers collapsing and they just couldn’t believe it.

I forget if it was the next day or the day after when I finally drove into work. There was a spot on the Tappan Zee bridge, near the Westchester side, where you could see the towers standing. I used to do a quick turn to look at them every day. Now all I saw was the cloud billowing up towards the sky. I knew the buildings were gone, but it was still so surreal.

These days I still think about the people who lost their lives in that incident, and how lucky we have been to not have had another, and how grateful I am for all the people who have prevented these kinds of things from happening here. I also think of the people who have lost their lives in other incidents of terrorism around the world, and of the wars that have been fought since then. It has changed our world view, just like the raid on Pearl Harbor did back in 1941.

There are a couple more thoughts I’ve had relating to this:

  • In America, we need to get beyond the idea that Muslims are terrorists. It doesn’t work that way. There are Muslims who are terrorists, true, but there are also Christians who are terrorists. And atheists, and Hindus, and whatever belief system you can find. It’s not the religion that defines a terrorist; rather, it is often the perversion of a religious system that is used to justify these heinous acts.  Add in a charismatic leader and people who feel helpless and you have a recipe for disaster.
  • I agree with Bruce Schneier – the only two things that have made a difference in dealing with terrorists on airplanes are (1) locks on the cockpit doors and (2) passengers are now more conscious and watchful for people acting suspiciously and are willing to take action (the brave passengers on Flight 93 have served as role models for all of us). The other things that have been tried (like the new full-body scanners) are just security theater that do little to truly make us safe. I do think there is a role for the TSA in helping to find terrorists, it’s just that they haven’t figured it out yet, so they go with the easy “solutions”.