Today is the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and remembrance ceremonies are being held in New York and at the Pentagon, among other places. I won’t be attending any of these; after all, I wasn’t directly affected — other than being a D.C. resident on that day. I can still recall, however, that morning in 2001, right down to the most inane, minute details.
Here’s a just a sampler of the things I remember:
- Wearing a summery, lime-green linen skirt, even though it was after Labor Day, because it was the most beautiful September weather I had ever seen;
- Hearing from Mary, as she arrived in from parking her car, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center;
- Sitting on the floor around the television in the tiny communications office with a dozen or so equally stunned colleagues;
- Learning that a plane had hit the Pentagon (true), and that there were explosions at the State Department and on the Mall (both false);
- Realizing that it wasn’t a series of accidents or coincidences — that it was something;
- Calling my sister and imploring her to leave her office at 17th & Pennsylvania and go home because she was just too close to the White House;
- Watching the second tower crumble on the monitor behind the clueless, droning CNN anchor’s head;
- Being told by the newscasters that, if the fourth plane appeared to be headed for the White House, it would be shot down over Northwest D.C., which is where my office was (and is); and
- Feeling relief when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.
And there’s the the thing I wish I didn’t remember, or that I could deny having felt, but I do and I did. To this day, I am devastated by my reaction; my only excuse is that in the moment I felt that perhaps the loss of those lives had possibly saved my own, or my sister’s. It seems absurd and trite and ridiculous in hindsight, to have actually been that scared.
Thus I learned the nature of terrorism: fear triumphing over rational thought. The more afraid, the more irrational — and the more willing to dehumanize others to ensure your own safety. It’s a lesson one does not easily forget.