I remember this day.
I remember the moment.
As the years have passed, I have come to view this day differently than I did in the beginning. In the beginning, there was a lot more anger and unanswered questions. Most started with ‘Why’.
I was an armored truck driver and on this particular day we were short-handed, so I was to pick up our on-call ATM serviceman for the St. George, and surrounding area, to be my partner for the day. I didn’t really like the guy and because he didn’t know the route or what we were supposed to do at each stop, it meant that I would be doing all the work. Fine. I could do that. It was just one day.
The truck I was in had no working radio or tape deck, so that meant that I would have to listen to… hopefully, nothing. But I knew this guy. He likes to talk. About stupid stuff. Just mindless small talk. I hate small talk. Maybe this day is going to be worse than I first thought.
It was early in the morning. It was nearing 7:00 AM and suddenly my boss called me on my cell phone. I was thinking that he better make it quick I was almost to the on-ramp, and if I forgot anything it was going to be too late.
“Turn on the radio! My wife just called and said the twin towers had been blown up or something like that.”
After a brief explanation of what my boss knew, it was just me and my imagination for 45 minutes. I had been left with what seemed like a cryptic message. The twin towers in New York had been bombed or something. They were on fire. Were we under attack? Who could do something like this? Who would do something like this? Did we actually have enemies that wanted to go to war? I was so confused. However, I still had a job to do. All of those answers would have to wait. I had deliveries. I had a tight schedule.
I picked up my temporary partner and right away I wanted to kick him out of the truck and finish my route on my own.
“Hey, man, do you know what’s going on? Have you heard…? Do you know…? What’s the deal with…?” I was assaulted with a barrage of stupid questions and because I couldn’t hear clearly—because he doesn’t enunciate—he just got closer and yelled it all at me. I was already agitated. He was not helping. Also, he smelled bad. Poor hygiene. You put nasty stink in a truck whose windows don’t roll down, that’s some new level of bad right there.
As each bank delivery was made I saw that people were just frozen in place. Business just seemed to stop. Anyone moving was doing it in slow motion, their eyes fixed on the television sets that were playing the same horrible footage over and over and over again.
Because you can’t stand still and just ‘hang out’ when you have thousands of dollars on you, I had to keep moving. And it seemed as though there was a news network conspiracy against just me. With each bank I entered I saw the exact. same. footage. over and over again. I never heard what new developments were taking place. It was just the same footage of the first tower collapsing over and over. It was always, “Let’s play that again.” Followed by the exact same footage. All. day. long.
My partner only made it worse because his relation of the news updates to me was lacking in clarity and always followed by, “At least I think that’s what they said.” See, he had brought a portable radio with him but the armored truck was blocking the reception.
By the time my workday had ended. I only knew a few things. One, was that at least one tower had collapsed. Two, we would soon be at war. Three, there was a good chance that I would be part of that war.
At that time I was finishing up my reserve contract with the Marine Corps. My wife was very confused as to why I thought I might be called to active duty since at that time I was on inactive duty status. That doesn’t mean much to Uncle Sam during a time of war, during a crisis. And I agree.
I remember the nation being violently angry and demanding war. I remember flags everywhere, and patriotism overflowing. I remember the nation’s loss. I remember the nation’s fear. I remember the nation’s tears. I remember the heroic individuals that fought back to stop another plane from doing more damage. And those unselfish heroes that died trying to save others from harm. People just doing the right thing.
About a week before my contract was to end my unit was sent off to fight our new enemies overseas. I was left behind. My wife was fine with that, and I understood why. I remember the conflict of wanting to go and wanting to stay. Torn between nation and family. Torn between two very different senses of duty. I have never made peace with that. I had fellow Marines, brothers-in-arms, that were risking their lives. Why didn’t I get to go? I felt very much like Lt. Dan (Forrest Gump) when he was robbed of his destiny to die on the battlefield. Troubled and confused as to God’s plan for him. I still wrestle with that.
Through channels, I found out that my unit was the tip of the sword that made its way through enemy territory. And with all their training and skills, we only lost a few. There is a reason they were the tip of the sword, my unit is an exemplary unit. I remember watching the news late at night and seeing them return home from deployment and watching a father hold his baby boy for the first time. Good stuff.
I remember year after year calls to “Never forget” and images of wreckage and sorrow. I remember how even in comic books superheroes like Captain America could be found helping with the debris at ground zero. It made me feel good to know that people were trying to help in whatever way they could. Finding ways to help with the healing. It was awesome.
I remember how the nation, tired from war, turned. And became furious with our government. How individuals began to point fingers and place blame. How had we moved from such a re-united nation to such a divided nation in such a short time?
I remember how quickly we turned on the innocent. How anyone matching a certain look or religion was suddenly a spy. An enemy within our own borders. How dare they be here.
I remember the unjustified violence against them.
Mostly, I remember it like just the other day. Not 18 years ago.
For me, as a first-generation American, as a part of a family of patriots, as a member of a religious faith that teaches tolerance and true forgiveness and compassion and freedom, as a United States Marine, as a man, as a human being… For me, this day should be remembered as a time when an enemy of peace attacked, unprovoked. It should be remembered as a day when a nation remembered that it was all on the same side, that it should work together. It should be remembered as an opportunity to forgive and move forward. As a day when peace and love should reign, not death and hate. As a once tragic, but now a good day.
Do not forget what this day means to this nation, but do forget the hate. There’s enough bad out there already. We don’t need to add to it. We should be better than that.
May God bless this nation to, once again, be strong and united.
I remember this day.
I remember the moment.
Additional: While at work today I would take students into the hub between classrooms to work with them on their tests. One of the teachers from a neighboring classroom was playing footage from 9/11/01. Once again, I heard the same Dan Rather report, on the same footage over and over and over.