Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blue skies the backdrop to tragedy

Seven years ago today, I woke around 7 a.m., popped open my traditional Diet Coke, and flipped on the television. An old episode of “The Nanny” was playing on Lifetime television, and I sat in a sleepy stupor for a long time staring at the screen. I kept telling myself that the clock was ticking – get up and get going.

It was Tuesday and press day for my weekly newspaper. I dreaded the long hours of layout ahead of me. Most Tuesdays, I did not make it home from the office until well into the wee hours. In fact, the nice lady at the drive through window at Krystal’s knew my assistant editor and me quite well from our 2 a.m. dinner stops.

Finally at around a quarter to eight, I dragged myself to the bathroom for a shower and the miracle of make-up in an effort to become somewhat presentable.

Around 8:30 a.m., the telephone rang. Cindy, my assistant editor, asked me what I was doing.

“I’m almost ready,” I said. “I will be at the office at 9.”

“Are you not watching TV?” she asked.

“’The Golden Girls’ is on, but I haven’t been watching.”

“Turn on the ‘Today Show’,” she said. “Somebody just bombed the Pentagon and a plane just hit the World Trade Center. I don’t know what is going on, but it is crazy.”

With my hair still wrapped in a towel, I sank to the couch as I saw the first images of the attacks on the television. Helicopters were hovering above the Pentagon; an enormous black hole released smoke into the sky above.

“This is bad, Cindy,” I finally said.

“Yeah, I know,” she replied.

“What have they said,” I asked.

“Nothing really, they just interrupted the show with breaking news. They said a plane hit the World Trade Center accidentally like before, but then the Pentagon got bombed.”

We watched together on the phone for a few minutes -- listening for updates on what was going on. Just then, on national television, another plane circled around and exploded into the other tower.

We were silent in complete disbelief.

“I am going to call my parents,” I finally said. “I will be later coming in than I thought.”

“Yeah, me too,” Cindy absently said.

“I’ll see you in a few.”

I never understood why someone would remark about remembering exactly what he was doing when President Kennedy was shot. He was killed 10 years before I was born, so I guess the significance has always been lost on me.

However, just as Kennedy’s assassination follows some around forever, September 11 will haunt me . History happened right before my very eyes, and it changed the very fabric of my being. I was no longer protected in the bubble of rural America – the ugliness of the real world was just something seen on television. I finally realized the effect world events can have on every one of us.

At that time, I was the 26-year-old editor of a small-town weekly newspaper. I was well versed in local events – annexation law, Mississippi code, my city’s beautification ordinances, and high school football. I could discuss millage rates, infrastructure improvements and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).

However, I was poorly educated in world affairs and national politics. I remember writing a feature story of a local soldier who served in Kosovo, and I was forced to research the conflict on Wikipedia. I knew little of the Rwandan genocide, the Hillary Clinton healthcare plan, or the political evolution of Rudy Giuliani. Worse, I did not know Osama Bin Laden – the mastermind behind the attack.

I realized quickly it was time to pop the bubble and realize there was so much happening outside my state, or for that matter, my zip code. The world obviously wasn’t as pretty as I had come to believe, and I needed to be prepared for what other catastrophic event was in the future (I hate surprises – it’s genetic).

It was my responsibility to become acquainted with the rest of the world. I began reading – political biographies, essays, and magazines – and watching news broadcasts and documentaries. I also began reading dozens newspapers every day.

Ironically, after all of my preparations and mental lists of our nation’s enemies and frenemies, I don’t believe I will ever be prepared for another attack, and that scares me to death. So after seven years, I continue to wake each morning in Winona, Mississippi, pop open an ice cold Diet Coke, and flip on the news. And every morning, I pray for our country and those who are willing to fight and die for our freedom. My peace of mind relies heavily on them and their sacrifice.

On the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, join me as I pray for those nearly 3,000 Americans that were so tragically lost and the families who grieve for them.


Jo said...

Thank you so much for your poignant writings on such a sad day in history. I live in Australia, and also remember turning on the tv and being amazed, horrified and chilled to the bone that something like that could happen. My 13 year old son remembers the day as one of his earliest memories, which I think is quite sad. On Sept 11 I stopped, and contemplated, and prayed for you as a nation.

Dana said...

I remember getting into work before someone told me what was going on (I live in Canada). At first, I was simply stunned. The true impact didn't occur until a bit later. I was absolutely distraught! Even worse was later footage, showing the citizens of other countries celebrating the loss of Americans. How childish and petty is that?!