September 11, 2001 was one of those days where you remember even now ten years later exactly where you were, what you were doing, and what you thought, felt and said. In some ways it is hard to believe that it has been ten years.
For me, I'm sure just like everyone else, September 11, 2001 started out normally enough. I went to work at the CPA firm and was into my morning routine when a colleague who had come to work late due to a dentist appointment arrived and asked if any of us knew what was going on. None of us did.
A bunch of us crowded into his office as he had a radio (by this time all the Internet news sites were already crashed due to high volume) to find out what was happening. At that moment, it sounded like there had been a horrible accident in New York. I remember feeling sorry for those who had been killed and wondering to myself how such an accident could occur when our air traffic control system was so advanced. Everyone crowded into the small office was just about ready to return to work when the radio announcer started shouting that it had happened again. Another plane had crashed into the other World Trade Center tower.
In that instant, everything changed. I remember turning to the co-worker standing next to me and whispering (I guess because saying it aloud was too awful), "This isn't an accident. Someone is doing this."
I remember how chaotic the next several hours seemed. The news that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. The news that a fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. The news (all of which later turned out to be untrue) that the Capitol Building was on fire, that the Washington Mall was on fire that the Washington Monument was on fire, the news that there were still eight more hijacked planes in the air, and so on. I remember saying to someone that it seemed like the whole world was coming apart all at once. I remember thinking to myself that this was how it felt to be attacked.
Then I remember the vulnerable feeling of looking out the windows of my office building (the tallest building in my city) and seeing the Federal Courthouse next door being evacuated and barricaded and watching all the government agencies that had offices in my building evacuating (DEA, US Attorney, Secret Service, etc.). All the government employees were evacuated, leaving behind the rest of us: insurance agents, accountants, a restaurant, a bank, etc. - the regular people to wonder if they knew something we didn't.
That was the other thing: getting news was so difficult. The Internet was down. All the news sites crashed. Virtually everything - actual news, speculations, rumors and greatest fears were being reported on the TV and on the radio because no one knew what was true and what wasn't - including the news organizations and reporters.
By the time I got home from work that evening, a lot had been sorted out, and were known to be facts. And the facts were very grim. But there are flashes of great hope for us as a country as well. When it was announced on TV that water was needed, people, businesses, corporations rushed so much water to the scene the TV announcers later asked that no more water be sent. Then canned food was needed. After a while, it was announced that no more canned food was needed. Then it was blood donations. Then the Red Cross had to announce that not everyone should give blood immediately because blood would be needed over the course of several weeks and they would need available donors later as well. There was something hopeful in the massive response. That we as people could put everything aside for that day and pull together when needed.
Today is appropriately a day of remembrance and sadness for those lost. Some people complain (myself included) that people forget too easily, that we don't remember what was done to us that day, etc., but as I pondered that this morning, I think as much as we have to reflect on what happened and face the future wiser because of the past, there is something hopeful in the fact that we have gone on about our business and our lives.
Doesn't this mean that the terrorists who wanted to destroy who we are on September 11, 2001 didn't accomplish their goal? Doesn't our response to the event in the days shortly following show that we are not who they claimed we are? And yet, doesn't the fact that many of us will spend our day today doing much the same thing we would have done 11 years ago today - a year before the attack happened - mean that their hatred also didn't change who we are? And doesn't that mean that in the end, we won after all?