Great events of all magnitude—those days that remain in our memories as vignettes of personal recollection—return almost as re-runs of popular experience. Everyone has his or her own version of what happened to them, or relative to them on that day…some, actually “most,” I should say, are pretty mundane. Perhaps the vivid memories of irrelevant, impersonal details of a monumentous happening, is what keeps us sane when the world around us is in turmoil.
Here’s what my day—September 11, 2001—was like.
At a few minutes before 9:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time, I pulled into the parking lot of the bank. The car radio was tuned to NPR (National Public Radio) as usual, and there and there had just moments before been a news flash, cutting into the programming, announcing that “an airplane” had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Details were sketchy.
The first person I encountered was a U.S. Postal Worker, a mailman, who had parked his little vehicle next to mine. I said “did you hear about the 757 jetliner hitting the trade center tower in New York?” He replied that he had not had the radio on since he had begun his route.
“No,” he said… “but it could not have been a 757…maybe a 737.” I often wonder if, when he realized that I was right, he remembers saying that.
My next stop on my day’s itinerary was Target. The check-out clerk had not heard the news about the incident in New York…nor had any of the customers standing in line. There was some discussion about the crash being an accident; the plane in question having been a small commuter jet aircraft; and general disbelief that such a thing could happen in the United States!
During the day the radio continued to report the progress of the unfolding drama in New York, and when I got back home the television news was all over the story…and that Boeing 757 crashed into that building over and over and over again as they re-ran the film footage. Then the second plane hit the other tower, with black smoke billowing into the skies.
My granddaughter was coming back to Cleveland after a stay in California. Flying on the red-eye from Los Angeles, the flight was on time and nearing Cleveland. Her mother, and uncle, were waiting at the airport, approaching the security check-in place, where they were stopped by security guards. They were told they could not go beyond the security point. (At that time visitors or meet-and-greeters were normally permitted to progress to the loading gates to meet arriving passengers.)
My son, who is dark complected and has a beard, was getting more attention from the security people than usual, questioning him about where he was going and who he was. He and his sister were told to wait where they were, which they did. The security guards seemed agitated, and there was more hustle and bustle around the area than was normal at that time in 2001.
Soon, passengers came hurrying down the passage and toward the baggage claim area, and a brief wait, my granddaughter appeared walking down from the arrival gates. The airport staff directed her and the others to leave the area, and on to where her luggage was sitting off to one side…the attendant told them to hurry, that the airport was closing…to get the baggage and…get out! (She didn’t say why, probably not sure of the reasons herself.)
A call from my son in Minnesota, asking if she got in all right, was the first actual knowledge they got about what was happening in New York.
By this time (shortly after 9:00 a.m.) all of the airports in the United States had been put on alert and were closing down completely to any air traffic except flights that were imminently landing at various airports. All flights were diverted to Canada. Apparently, our girl got in on the last flight into Cleveland.
Later that day my ex-husband, the father of those I mentioned here, was taken to the hospital (in Michigan, I think) and was in critical condition. He understood what was happening on the television, but he was in very grave condition…and sometime after midnight on the next day, September 12, he died.
During the night, after the infamous 9-11 day, I remember getting up out of bed more than once to turn on the television to determine if I had dreamed the whole thing…but every time I tuned in the channel that plane was crashing into that tower. No dream…a nightmare, but not personal. This event has affected everyone in the world and created many personal memories.
How terrible must be the actual memories of those first responders, and people who were rescued before the destruction was complete…and relatives and friends of those who were killed during the tragedy.