Today there is a lot of reflection and introspection on the 9/11 tragedy. As I sat here this morning watching the coverage of the tenth anniversary, I was remembering in startling detail exactly where I was and what I was doing ten years ago this morning.
The memorial site at Ground Zero in New York City
Ten years ago today things had started out in normal fashion for me. I had gotten up, showered, dressed, made breakfast, checked emails, got ready for work and took off. At the time I was still working for Immedient, and I was working at the client location in central Johnson County.
That morning while I was driving to work on I-35 South, I called a former Hallmark colleague to see if we were still on for lunch that afternoon. As we talked, traffic came to a complete stop. I’ll never forget it. The sky was blue and cloudless, and the temperature was 73 degrees according to my car. I couldn’t understand what would have happened to make every car on the highway come to a complete stop. That is when I heard Paul say to me over the phone, “Wade a plane just hit the World Trade Center in New York do you have your car radio on?” I told him yes but I hadn’t heard anything about a plane and the Trade Center. We kept talking and making plans for lunch. Neither of us had a clue about what was going on. We both thought it was just an accident.
Over the next 10 minutes I managed to inch forward to my exit ramp, hop off I-35 and make it to my job site. The whole time I was listening to NPR, but there was nothing revealing about the true intentions of the first plane crash. As I entered my office location, there was a large group of people gathered around a TV in a conference room. I decided to stop and see if there was any additional information on the accident. The Today show was on TV, and I’ll never forget this as long as I live; as I was walked into the room and looked over at the TV, I saw the second plane hit tower 2 right behind Matt Lower’s head. At that point, in a single instant, I knew something really wrong was going on. I don’t think I left that room for the rest of the morning.
As a crowd of us stood in that tiny conference room watching the TV, Lisa Goodbinder was asking if the towers could fall, could they collapse. I told her no. I said that the buildings were engineered to withstand a direct hit from an airplane, which was true. What I didn’t know or understand, was the size of the aircraft, and the fact that they were fully loaded with fuel. I’ll never forget telling her that. It was an honest mistake, but one that has haunted me for some time. Not because I was wrong, I’m wrong all the time. It haunts me because I really thought the towers wouldn’t fall, and I thought that everyone below the floors that were hit would get out of the buildings. I couldn’t have imagined that a little over an hour later both towers would collapse into lower Manhattan forever changing the world, and becoming the touch point that would send America to war for ten years.
At some point during the morning I remember suddenly thinking of my good friend Jeff Chenault who lived in Brooklyn, and worked in Manhattan. I tried calling him, but all of AT&T’s phone lines were completely jammed. It took more than twenty tries before I got his voice mail. It took another day before I heard back from him that he was OK. (Later on I found out that he had grabbed his camera gear and had hiked down to ground zero two days later. He got almost all the way in taking photos along the way before he was stopped and turned back. He said he thought he got so far because everyone was in shock and they just figured he was a reporter. He got some amazing photos on his little adventure)
I didn’t do any work ten years ago today. None. I was supposed to be on site helping to build a portal and content management system for Immedient’s client CHCA. I was supposed to be working and billing my time. I couldn’t do it. The impact of what we had witnessed on live TV, and what continued to unfold was far to powerful. Every ounce of concentration had been swept from me. Any desire to work rather than find out what was going on didn’t exist.
I spent six hours in that conference room watching TV, finally leaving around 4 to put gas in my car. We had heard from people who had gone out at lunch that there was a run on gas stations, and there was in impending shortage. I spent 45 minutes in line at the Phillips 66 station on Johnson drive that afternoon, waiting to fill up my car having no clue that I really didn’t have to worry about gas supplies.
One thing that sticks with me from this day is how the consultant from the software company that was building the CMS kept coming into the room where the Immedient staff was watching the events unfold on the TV, and saying “This isn’t that important. We need to get to work and make some money.” Seriously, he did it four times. I just didn’t get it. His focus was exclusively on the money. He had no concern for the people who had lost their lives in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
I didn’t lose anyone in New York, Washington, or Pennsylvania ten years ago today. I know a number of people who did, and my heart will always go out to them. They say that time heals all wounds, and I truly believe that. The shock and pain of this tragedy has diminished over time, and will continue to do so for many of us as time marches forward. I doubt my memories of that days events will fade for me though. I’m sure that is true for all of us. If you were old enough to comprehend what was going on September 11, 2001, you will probably always be able to recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when this tragedy happened.
So where were you, and what were you doing ten years ago today?