9/11 Pacific Coast Time

I saw the film, “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close,” last night.  I had missed it in theatre but was glad to find it on cable.  Most appropriate that I should have seen it the evening before 9/11 as it’s about a young boy who lost his father on that day and also about how the tragedy brought New Yorkers together.  It’s a moving and uplifting movie based on a book of the same name.

To mark this day, which for many of my generation could be considered “our  Pearl Harbor”, I thought I’d reprint the essay I wrote on the day after as everyone was still trying to sort out what had happened.  It’s longer than my usual blog posts so I hope you’ll excuse me as it wasn’t written for this format.  But also hope that it will cause you to stop and remember, if even for just a moment.

The Day After

I awoke this morning to the sound of an aircraft flying overhead. I thought it was a commercial jet from Vancouver B.C. “The airports must have been reopened,” I said to Mike. It was just after 6 a.m. The last thing I saw on television last night was that Sea-Tac expected flights to resume at 9 a.m. this morning. But it was not a commercial airliner, it was a military jet patrolling the Puget Sound. I telephoned my friend, Pat, to ask if she’d like to take the kayaks out this morning. The water looked calm and peaceful and I thought that it would be a good way to start this particular morning. She said she wasn’t sure because she hadn’t been feeling too well since yesterday. Her brother-in-law works in the Army side of the Pentagon too. He was also lucky and escaped injury. But I insisted, telling her that I thought it might help to clear her head.  So she agreed.

“The water looked calm and peaceful…”

I ran the boys to school and then headed down to the boatyard where we keep our kayaks. We hauled them out and pushed off into the strangely still
water. Our kayaks moved quietly and smoothly through the rippleless water.  We talked about all that had happened the day before and all that we had heard on the latest news reports.  Pat had heard more than I as she had been up since 4:30 a.m., unable to sleep.  I had already been to three places in town that regularly stocked the New York Times.  All three had sold out.  I telephoned the news stand downtown that carries the Times; they too were out and told me that everyone in town was out of the paper. “I thought the paper would do an overrun,” I said.

“They did,” the young woman on the phone replied.

“Well you can get it on the Internet,” Pat reminded me as we paddled past the shipyard’s pier.

“I know,” I said. “I did that yesterday but I somehow wanted to have something in my hands.”

In fact, I had logged onto the NY Times website late yesterday afternoon just as Bush was finishing his address. I read everything, consuming every little bit of information that the Times had available. Even as I read, the paper was updating its website to include Bush’s remarks and the latest updates. How busy my buddies in the working media throughout the country must be, I thought. One of them is a “special projects” editor for the New York Times in D,C, Yesterday’s events would certainly qualify. I haven’t even bothered to e-mail him. Or anyone else that I know in that business, for that matter. In some ways, I feel disconnected. I suppose almost anyone who has ever worked in the news media has similar feelings. At least they are getting answers, or attempting to get answers. The rest of us just have to wait.

Last night at dinner, my son commented on how poor the news coverage was at first. I explained to him that in situations like that, no one knows exactly what is going on. At first, you get reports that there is a fire somewhere, an explosion in the World Trade Tower, maybe a bomb. But I can just imagine the disbelief when the word comes across that an airliner has just crashed into the Towers. Then there’s word that not just one, but two have crashed into the Towers. What chaos and confusion there must have been. I doubt that not even the eyewitnesses on the street or those taping what was happening in their videocamera could believe it. It just didn’t seem real.
“You know that air crews have a code that they are supposed to punch in if  the plane is being hijacked,” Pat told me this morning. “Not one of the four planes sent that code,” she said. We both shook our heads. How could that happen? How could any of this have happened? Answers. There simply are no answers.

Paddling Past Post Point
“Our kayaks moved quietly and smoothly through the rippleless water…”

Our silence was broken by the sound of rotary propellers overhead. We looked up. A Coast Guard helicopter passed above. We watched it go by knowing that it probably wasn’t searching for lost fishermen or boaters today.

“My sister said that she thinks she heard the plane go into the Pentagon,” Pat said. “Then she called up her husband and told him to ‘Get the hell out of there,’ just as he got the word to evacuate.”

We traded more stories that we had read or heard about others who had survived.  In a way , we too were survivors. We had arisen, dressed, eaten breakfast, gotten our kids off to school and were now doing what I suspect many other Americans are doing today, talking between themselves about yesterday’s events.  We were trying to make sense of a senseless acts of terrorism. Or was it so senseless?

Somewhere in the world, someone is feeling very good about what happened yesterday. Feeling good about having shown the world that we, in America, are not as invincible as we often think that we are. It is difficult to understand exactly how this could be possible.  And yet, as anyone who’s ever been abroad can tell you, not everyone is as enamored about America as we might like to think.  We do, sadly, have enemies. Identifying exactly who they are is not always so easy.  And that’s what’s so frustrating about yesterday’s assault on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It’s clear to me, that whomever it was in charge was making a statement in their own sick way.  They targeted two institutions–one symbolizing this country’s financial strength and the other the country’s military strength. The fourth downed plane, I believe, was not headed for Camp David but probably also for the Pentagon. And what does this mean for us? I’m not sure but I am certain that someone out there in this world that has grown so small with the Internet, is very angry with us and we’d better pay attention.

“It’s a little odd, isn’t it?”  I said to Pat, “to think that this morning no one can fly in or out of, or around the country.”

“Yeah,” she said.

We watched the ferry cruise out towards San Juan Island just as it always does at 9 a.m. every morning. Our little part of the world seemed so quiet compared to what was going on elsewhere.

I am amazed by the stories filtering out about those who fled and survived.  I fear that there were be many, many who did not. I am hoping that our friends and family of our friends are not among the casualties.  But I know that someone’s friends and familiy members will be.  One of the passengers on one of the planes was someone a friend of ours knew personally.  And, as the days go by, I expect that will more the case. I think I am still numbed by all that has happened in the past 24 hours. I think a lot of people are.

I just learned on the local radio station that the jets to which I awoke this morning had forced a Lear jet to land at Bellingham airport.  The Lear jet, headed from Alaska to Seattle, was, as it turns out, carrying transplant organs to a Seattle hospital where a recipient was waiting.  The jet was grounded but the organs were airlifted on by helicopter. One more person would survive.  So will we.