Remembering 9/11, Sixteen Years Later

I’m not usually an overtly “patriotic” type of person. Two years ago my oldest daughter played the national anthem at one of her first football games as part of her high school marching band. It happened to be 9/11. I did feel something stir inside me. It probably was because on September 11th, 2001 the birth of my first child was imminent and my life was changing forever. So these events are forever intertwined in my mind.
I remember a lot of that day 16 years ago. Minor little things like I had just watched the Monday Night Football game the evening before. It featured the New York Giants and Denver Broncos. Wide receiver Ed McCaffrey broke his leg during that game. However, I also remember important details of my life. My wife was very pregnant and was basically on restricted activity so I had been driving her to work for a week or two. We were listening to the The Steve & DC Show show that morning as we had done for many years. When news of the first plane crashing into the towers came across, my first thought was of one of the Die Hard movies where the terrorists manipulated the airport’s guidance system to make a plane crash. Commercial jetliners don’t just crash into buildings. This either had to be a horrible mistake or it was intentional. Not knowing for sure what was happening (and assuming it was simply just a terrible accident) I went ahead and began driving my wife to work. When the news of the second plane was announced I remember exactly where I was. I-255 South right before the exit ramp to I-55/50 West. At that point I knew it was no accident. Had I known better I would have turned around and brought my wife back home. But being young and naive, I went ahead and took her to work, then went to my parking lot in downtown St. Louis (where the new Busch stadium now stands) to wait for a shuttle to bring me to work.
While waiting for the shuttle to come around, there wasn’t really anyone near me. I looked around and thought to myself how the calm in that parking lot was such a contrast to what was happening in New York. I felt that the relative peacefulness surrounding me at that moment was like the calm before a storm. These events, even before I heard about the Pentagon attack and the scale of the tragedy to unfold, were unlike anything that had happened in this country and I knew that things would change drastically for everyone after that day.
When I got to work there was of course very little work going on. Most people were talking about the news and trying to watch a TV. People were still beginning to hear about the 2nd plane and realizing it was no accident. As word kept coming in about further attacks and the towers collapsing, it felt weird to be at a job where work tasks seemed so insignificant by comparison to what was happening in the rest of the world. I had a relatively important call scheduled with someone in another department that morning and we went ahead with that, but talking about some mundane technology details of some corporate network system felt surreal as none of that really mattered on that day. I recall where a woman co-worker came crying frantically down the hall saying she saw a plane circling near our high-rise building. I remember trying to calm her down and realizing just how much this was affecting people who I had never seen act in a non-professional way. Eventually our management felt that anyone who wanted to go home could and that was good with me because I was going to leave anyway, as my wife had already left her job and I should have been the one to pick her up.
We spent much of the afternoon at a friend’s house who was home recovering from a recent kidney transplant: his own life changing event. Having had kidney problems for literally all of his life, he had said previously that this was the first time that he expected to live past his 20’s. He shared that he never really saved much money because he didn’t think he’d be around long enough to spend it. And now he was set to marry his fiancé (who incidentally was the person who donated the kidney) in a couple of months. So as I was ready to bring a child into the world, he was basically starting his life anew. The set of circumstances that were surrounding us all at that time seemed odd, but also perhaps fitting. All our lives would have never been the same after that fall regardless, but now the world was changing in front of our very eyes in a very dramatic way.
So as it is, every milestone birthday in my oldest daughter’s life is synchronized with the anniversary of that horrific day in our history. This year, being her sweet 16, perhaps it is a little more poignant. She is about to get her driver’s license and essentially begin to venture out into the world on her own. The world where 16 years ago on this day we suddenly we all wondered about our future and our children’s future. However, don’t be mistaken. As sad as all this sounds I choose to look at the positive. Where great evil was perpetuated on that day, we saw incredible heroism and selfless behavior. Afterwards, we saw an outpouring of support from people in this country and all over the world. Since that time I have come to believe that there is far more good in the world than evil and that humanity is generous, kind, and full of love by nature. Perhaps symbolically we are seeing a lot of that kindness and generosity right now with the recent hurricanes that have caused a lot of devastation in Texas and Florida, among other places. While we all had our own particular circumstances that shape the way we remember 9/11, my own with the forthcoming birth of my first daughter ultimately taught me that life goes on. I don’t worry for either of my daughters becoming young women even in a post-9/11 world. I know there will always be evil but I also know that we can’t dwell on the possibility of bad things happening. So my advice to my daughters will be to seek the good in this world, surround yourself with kind people, and work to help others in whatever way we can. We must live our lives as we are meant to live them and not be afraid of what the future holds.