I remember how quiet it was. For days after the tragic events of 9/11/2012, the skies over Chicago were silent. I grew up just feet away from the end of a runway at O’Hare Airport and then moved, at the age of six, to a house that was a few miles from the end of a runway. I got used to the sound of jet engines roaring from the airport and screaming over the house at odd hours, all the time. So, while some people would notice the sound of crickets ceasing their late-night singing or the absence of birds, I immediately noticed that the airplanes had stopped.
I attended a barbecue at a friend’s house just days after the events of that day. My friend lived near the airport as well. We all sat outside in his backyard, trying our best to be merry, and noticed how clear the sky was and how…quiet.
It has almost become a tradition with me now. Every few years I write about the events of that day. As a writer, it’s hard not to want to chronicle the events of that day in hopes that it will be remembered for a long time after. I have no idea if my words mean anything to anyone as I was in Chicago – thousands of miles away from where an unspeakable horror was occurring. My brother and sister-in-law lived in New York, and there were a few panicked hours, but even as buildings in and around the twin towers were burning and falling, I knew that both of them were safe.
I was an employee at Aon back then. They had a very large office in the Towers. For days and days afterward the emails and announcements came of funerals and missing people. I felt bonded to these people even though I never met a single one.
I think about the children who have been born since then. All of them about 10 years old or so, now. They have grown up not knowing a world without 9/11 as an important set of numbers. They have not known a world where the threat of terrorism has not hung over their heads.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s. I vividly remember being convinced that the U.S. would just be bombed out of existence by missiles from the Soviet Union. It seemed inevitable. It wasn’t until years later, when the Soviet Union finally fell, that I realized the Russians were all just people. People who didn’t like what their government was doing, or just didn’t care, but wanted to live from day to day and do what they could to make a living. They wanted to eat and sleep and have shelter and a job and clothes and to have a little fun on the weekends.
In short, they were just like me.
It’s easy for politicians to turn an entire segment of the world into the enemy. Although the divides in this country really began during the 2000 election, they were blown apart like a hammer against cracked glass on 9/11/2012. We have never been the same and there are those who still feel that anyone who practices the Islamic religion is a ticking time bomb.
Like most, I was scared for a while. I remember talking to a friend from another country and trying to explain how I felt. I felt empty. I felt wounded. I felt as if I had been attacked even though I could not possibly know the horrors that those men and women in those buildings were experiencing. Narcissistic, I suppose, but we all tend to personalize things.
All religions were killed in that day. All races, colors, sexual preferences, sexes. The people who did this horrible thing just up and decided that killing thousands would somehow progress their own agenda. If any lesson should be learned here it is that fanaticism in any form is dangerous and can lead to horrible things, and that we should not live in fear.
For many, it meant that they believe that the U.S. should close down its borders and shut itself off. It meant waving the flag, closing eyes and ears and screaming that America was the best and everyone and everything else was wrong!
Not me. No, not me.
I am far from perfect. However, I believe that it is understanding that we should take from that day. Understanding that we are not alone and never have been. And that the world is shrinking and that we are less and less alone every day. Thus, we need to reach out and try to understand what seems strange.
They are just people. The world is just people. They all want to live and love and exist –except for a very few people who hold no value there. Thus it has always been and it is something we should continue to fight against.
I remember a scene with Henry Fonda in the great Cold War classic Fail-Safe. In it, U.S. bombers have mistakenly gotten and order to bomb Moscow. The president is on the phone with the premiere of the Soviet Union and the two wonder if they can actually bridge the gaps between them. The Soviet premier wonders if two men can come together even when there is “so much between us.”
The U.S. President says, “We put it there, Mr. Chairman, and we’re not helpless. What we put between us, we can remove.”
Just before that he also says, “We’re responsible for what happens to us. Today we had a taste of the future. Do we learn from it, or do we go on the way we have?”
If you think about it, the country has been more divided and more blown apart since that day. Everything really has changed. The men who did this hit us physically and emotionally that day. When the economy collapsed, they hit us financially. And now, years later, as the country polarizes more and more around ideology and absolutes rather than compromise and understanding, well, they continue to hit us. They changed us.
I hope that we become a country that understands. I hope that we eventually decide that the way to move forward is to reach out rather than continue to divide. I hope we all eventually understand that we are all here, sharing this very small speck of dirt spinning and hurtling through a vastness of space so great that our human brains can scarcely comprehend it. And that means, all we have is each other to fight off the darkness. Instead of living in fear, increasing that darkness, maybe some understanding can bring light.
I just know that things were quiet that day. I look out the window today, in 2012, and the sky is about as blue and beautiful as it was that day. I hope that it is now a sign of hope rather than a memory of tragedy. I think, in the end, that is the legacy of 9/11/01.