Today reminds me of how much we can heal from. Right now there is a lot of anger, fear, and hurt. I’ve been so caught up in current events I almost forgot what today was—the day we remember the Twin Towers and all who fell with them.
Most of us have our 9/11 memory. In September 2001 I was a contract writer for militarylife.com at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. At the time of the attacks, I was up early at the gym working out. There were always televisions going but I barely ever noticed them. I never plugged my headphones in to listen.
That morning I noticed they kept showing what I thought was a Cessna stuck in a skyscraper. Every time I looked up the news was zeroed in on it. A reporter’s face filled the screen and I saw real fear on her eyes. I plugged my headphones in so I could hear what was up. Her voice cut in harsh and loud. “… the Twin Towers!”
I knew what those were. Weeks before I had rented a Cessna that took my daughter and me on a flyover tour of New York City. The tour was all the usual sites—Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn… It seems like the turn around point was the Twin Towers. We circled once or twice before heading back. We saw the reflection of our plane in the windows.
My first thoughts were that one of those tour planes had flown too close to the building and crashed. It was only when the cameras panned out to show both towers that I realized it might be a little bigger.
As I was just catching on to the scope of this crisis, another plane crashed into the second tower. The realizations came in waves for me. That wasn’t a small plane… those are the actual Twin Towers… that was intentional… I left, work-out forgotten.
The story from here is similar for most of us. A nation glued to the television, struggling to comprehend what this meant. I don’t think the reality of it dawned on me until I left the house the next day to find the streets empty, everything shut and military tanks guarding the entrance to the base.
This is the post I wrote for militarylife.com (then militarylifestyle.com) the next day.
Military Bases Go into Extreme-Security Mode
Kirtland AFB, N.M., Sept. 13, 2001 — Two days ago my biggest worry was hiding birthday presents from my kids. Today I worry that I will have enough milk for their breakfast. The military base I live on has been sealed for security reasons. All non-essential personnel are refused entry at the gate by heavily armed guards, whose attitude is grim and all business. If the guards don’t deter people from trying to enter the base, the massive steel humvee with its barrel pointed directly at incoming traffic will.
Our base is like a ghost town. The streets are empty except for patrols. Parents are keeping their children locked away inside. School is closed indefinitely. The commissary looks strange sitting dark and empty in the middle of the day. Apparently store managers locked up so fast the day of the attacks that they left displays of soda sitting out unattended in the hot sun. The one store still open is the shoppette. More out of restlessness than need, I pack the kids in the car and we head there.
The atmosphere at the shoppette is subdued. I am relieved to see that gas is still the regular price, but the relief dies when I see the ration signs posted on every pump. No more than 10 gallons per customer, due to shortages. My tank is almost full, but I pull up anyway to get what I can. There is a police car pulled up next to the store, the officer is watching customers carefully. I find myself wondering what happens if someone pumps more than their share.
The cashier looks very sad as I pay for my gas. The line behind me is silent, no one feels like small talk today. I ask the cashier if she knows when the commissary will reopen.
“No one knows,” she says in a monotone voice, “we’re taking it day by day.”
Day by day is too vague for me. I want regular hours posted where I can see them. I want to depend on grocery stores, schools, and libraries. The faces around me reflect what I’m feeling. Silently, I pick up some milk, noticing the dwindling quantities.
Even the kids are quiet as we drive back to our neighborhood. The empty streets seem like they are holding their breath, waiting for more news. Ahead of me, nailed to a tree, is a handwritten sign. I slow the car down to read it.
“What’s it say?” asks my daughter. My two sons in the back seat are alert now, peering through the windows at the brown cardboard. I read the sign to myself first, and then smile.
“It says, ‘God Bless America’,” I answer. I pull the van over, and we all sit admiring the simple reminder of who we are and all we have. My eyes are tearing up.
“We are blessed,” I finally say. My tone is much bolder now than it has been since this crisis began. Worries about milk, gas, and school suddenly seem unimportant. “No matter what happens, we are blessed to be here. Let’s save our gas and go home. We’ve got things to do.”
“Yeah,” says my daughter, “I want to draw a flag to hang in my window.”