The Way We Were

This twisted antenna from one of the World Trade Center towers is enshrined in The Newseum in Washington, DC.

Today it’s 11 years. That number 11 will never mean the same thing.

As with Kennedy’s assassination, anyone who was alive on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news. It was a turning point for our nation’s history and our personal histories.

Does anybody remember the way we were, before that day? The time when the process of flying was more carefree, when we didn’t have to take off our shoes or watch what we say? When the top floor of a skyscraper was the perfect place to survey the swath of a great city? When we could descend into a subway without thinking “what if…?” When the rare news of a bombing somewhere didn’t cause us to jump to the conclusion that the bomber was swarthy and bearded?

During our recent trip to Washington, DC, we visited the Newseum, one of the city’s most intriguing museums, which depicted U.S. history’s most memorable news stories in artifacts and news clips. An entire exhibit was devoted to Sept. 11, and included the twisted needle from one of the twin towers, the destroyed engine from one of the doomed planes, half-incinerated cellphones found in the wreckage, a wall of front pages from Sept. 12, and videos that re-broadcast news from that horrific day. It brought home the terror of watching it live; seeing the second plane come out of the blue and strike the second tower; hearing the news about the planes that struck the Pentagon and crashed in a Pennsylvania field; experiencing the horror of seeing the stately buildings crumble into ashes; and, in the days that followed, seeing photos of the desperate people who plunged to their death instead of staying behind in the inferno.

Today we take the inconveniences of flying in stride. We don’t joke when we wait in line for the baggage screening. We put up with the Patriot Act and the increased scrutiny of our cell phone calls and web site visits. The acute worry of those post-911 days has become a dull resignation: this is the way the rest of the world lives, after all. The New York Times reported this morning that many communities near New York are scaling back their 911 remembrances, especially since the 10-year anniversary passed one year ago. They feel it’s time to move on.

But 11 years after that terrible day, it’s still hard to remember the way we were without feeling some regret.

My son Ryan and I had visited the World Trade Center in May of 2001. We can remember standing on the observation deck, looking at the antenna that beamed signals around the exciting metropolis that lay around our feet. While guards still were on duty in the lobby, we did not feel vulnerable. We did not feel even vaguely uncomfortable in the company of fellow tourists from exotic lands who did not look at all like us or speak English. From the top floor of the tower we visited a souvenir shop, bought mugs imprinted with the towers’ image; and made a short video to email home.

Little did we know, as we stood atop that more carefree world, how little time we had left.

9 thoughts on “The Way We Were

  1. Still chilling for me, too. I watched the second plane hit while watching the Today show and holding my five month old first-born child, wondering what the hell was going on in the world. He’s of the age now to watch those news reports and television specials, but unless you “lived it” in some way or another, they will never truly understand that feeling of vulnerablity.

    • Marcy, I remember worrying if my older children, then in middle and high schools, were safe, and what kind of world my three-year-old son would inherit. I also remember going out for plastic sheathing, duct tape and bottled water. It stayed in our basement for years before we finally gave it away.

  2. Goosebumps. I remember sitting in history class a few hours after the planes hit, and my classmate’s father was on one of the flights. The vice principal came in and asked for the student, and tears immediately welled up in his eyes, as if he already knew the bad news. By some act of God, his father missed the flight. Still gives me chills when I think about it.

  3. Cannot believe that 11 years have passed since that horrible day. We visited the 9/11 memorial a few months ago – it was a day mixed with so many emotions. I spent some of my childhood in that area and it brought back so many memories. There is still so much construction going on around the memorial but as we were standing at the “footprints” of the former Twin Towers with hundreds of people around, you could hear a pin drop. One of our neighbors in Valley Stream could have been one of those who lost his life because he worked in one of the towers, but that day he had to take his car in for a repair – I still remember him knocking on our door to tell us he was alright!
    I don’t think the world was ever the same after 9/11.

  4. Cathy

    As usual beautifully written. Love Mom

    Sent from my iPad

  5. This truly shocked the nation. What is truly sad is their first attempt was in 1993 and that was a warning sign that should have put us on guard.

  6. I will never forget that day, nor how I felt after. It was tough living abroad then. All I wanted to do was go home and be with other Americans. Thank you for a thoughtful post.

  7. “The way we were” is so different than now in every way.

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